As our resident AdMan, Zac Martin is the first to admit he has a vested interest in this topic, but with advertising seen by many as one of the last dividing lines between ‘big’ and ‘craft’ breweries, he makes a compelling case for breweries to reconsider advertising as a selling tool.
Advertising: the secret weapon breweries overlook
The independent beer market is saturated. Last year, 49 new breweries opened in Australia – growth that is not sustainable. While the category volume continues to trend up, at some point we will reach a ceiling on shelf space, available taps and overall consumption.
New entrants create competition, benefiting consumers with better quality and often, lower prices. But in an overcrowded market it means brewing a good beer (or even a great one) is not enough. Humans are irrational creatures, and it’s the indie breweries who invest in brand building that will rise above the rest.
The most efficient way to do this is through advertising. Yet, the word has become dirty. Maybe it’s the anti-establishment nature of craft, or the insistence that “good beer sells itself”, or the assumption something so old school must not work anymore.
But don’t be fooled – advertising is as effective as it’s ever been, when done strategically and with impact. Brewers who dismiss it do so at their peril.
Here’s why advertising works and how it grows businesses:
#1 Brands grow by increasing ‘mental availability’.
There are two ways to grow your brand . The first is increasing ‘physical availability’ – being in the right place the moment someone is looking to buy. I’m probably not blowing anyone’s mind saying appearing more often on shelf or be discoverable on Google is good for business.
But increasing distribution and getting on more taps isn’t as easy as pouring a beer. Luckily, we have a second lever we can pull, ‘mental availability’. This is the likelihood of someone thinking about your brand in a buying situation. Basically, how often you come to mind when a customer is ready to spend money.
Fame helps you be more mentally available. Advertising is a powerful tool to achieve this, especially when it’s used to communicate your brand’s positioning.
#2 Advertising creates distinctive brands.
At its most basic, advertising can either sell product or build brands. The former is short-term focused, driving direct response to move product off the shelf. The latter is a long-term play, creating that mental availability.
But fame alone is not enough. Brand advertising is most effective when it’s reinforcing a brand’s positioning – communicating what the brand stands for. This doesn’t have to be a noble cause – it might be a drinking occasion, a feeling it gives you, or a reason to buy.
Big Beer does this best. Which beer is best enjoyed when you want to be relaxing on a sun-drenched beach? Or after a hard day’s yakka?
The most successful brands find white space to be distinctive.
Importantly, it’s not to be confused with the word “different”. As the market matures, the differences at a product level from one beer to the next become negligible. But you don’t need to be different, only distinctive.
For example, one of my favourite ads this year is Hyundai’s Way More Fun Than Your Car.
There’s nothing tangible about the Kona, which makes it more fun to own or drive. But they become the most fun SUV by making fun ads. Especially if they reinforce this positioning for the next 20 years. And translate that through the website, in dealerships, etc. They become distinctively known as fun, and increase their mental availability when people are looking for a fun SUV.
The other key ingredient here is time. It’s why the most successful brands in the world use the same taglines, music and visuals consistently for decades. They reinforce their positioning, and constantly refresh your mental availability. It’s why you can whistle the end of a Maccas ad or identify a Coke by the outline of its bottle.
(In case you’re interested, the general rule of thumb for balancing your advertising is 40% selling product and 60% building the brand .)
#3 Advertising is a signal for safety.
When I got married at Mountain Goat brewery, we made our vows in front of a large group of people. And the day was rather expensive.
Advertising works the same way – the signal is just as important as the message. People perceive advertising, especially on traditional channels, to be seen by many and require a significant investment. This creates reassurance.
Brands reassure us our decision won’t be terrible, which is reinforced by the fact they advertise. It says they are a legit business and is a promise for quality and consistency. But it also signals that my peers will think the same way, reducing my risk of purchase.
#4 Brands are most effective when they reach as many people as possible as often as possible.
Given all of the above, brands benefit most when they reach as many potential buyers as possible. Your mission should be to put a branded message in front of as many people as you can, as often as you can afford. This is how you will increase the number of people who trial your beer, which has a direct correlation to market share.
Focus on reach to create mental availability, with a distinctive message and signal to your customers you are a safe bet to trial.
“But we don’t have money to advertise.”
I’m not saying you need to be on TV. But consider how you might prioritise an advertising strategy, translated through modern channels. These days the cost of entry in creating an ad and putting it in front of people is lower than any time in history.
Strategy is just a fancy word for focus. When doing your next marketing plan, consider how you might do fewer things, and redirect budget and time and energy into reaching consumers with a paid message that builds fame and distinctiveness.
One place to start, could be social media. I regularly see breweries, especially smaller ones, over invest here with a heavy reliance on unpaid strategies. This has little reach, with diminishing returns.
Big Beer leaned heavily on advertising for a reason. It’s how they became “big”. The indie breweries could learn from this, and the most successful ones will use advertising as the secret weapon others have overlooked.
Zac Martin has developed marketing strategies for some of Australia’s biggest and smallest breweries. He totally appreciates the vested interest he has in writing this article. Read more about his musings on advertising at Pigs Don’t Fly.
 ‘How Brands Grow’ – Byron Sharp (2010)
 ‘The Long and Short of It’ – Les Binet & Peter Field (2013)