From an early age, we are drawn to the mythic nature of stories.Wondrous lands, conniving villains and our heroes that save the day.
The stories we share are a connection between us – some kind of tether to the centuries of ancestors before us who regaled each other with tales of foreign lands or make-believe creatures. Truly, storytelling is part of who we are:
…human beings are natural storytellers—that they can’t help telling stories, and that they turn things that aren’t really stories into stories because they like narratives so much. Everything—faith, science, love—needs a story for people to find it plausible. No story, no sale.
In our modern society, this is particularly relevant as we move past cliched marketing trends of the past. We’ve reached a point where it now takes more than shining lights and pretty faces to sell a product. Especially when it comes to beer.
In a previous post on gender, beer and male expectations, I wondered: what happens when we no longer have to rely on the stereotypical marketing ploy of sexed-up women?
When our focus goes beyond “yellow fizz” of BMC beers and is retrained on the culture of craft, our assumptions change.
When we no longer need gimmicks to sell a product because the product sells itself, what’s the next step for the beer industry? For that, we must make a beer or a company bigger than just something in our glass.
For that, we need stories.
When crafting business plans, breweries now must consider the broader appeal of their beer. In a crowded market, how can their product stand out? If 45 percent of craft beer drinkers would try more beers if they knew more about them, how could you turn away from that?
In the territory of craft beer, that might mean sharing more information about what hops you use or the process of which a beer was made. At a base level, that’s still a function of storytelling – you’re sharing the intimate details of how a beer went from grain to glass.
But in marketing a product, the context for the beer is also key. For example, take my local hangout, Fullsteam. They recently began selling cans of a pale ale, but their choice to sell it in cans was deliberate:
[Owner Sean Lily] Wilson said that the liquid plays an important role in Fullsteam’s choice of the package type and size — as well as the accompanying price tag — in that the brewery attempts to pair taste and the drinking experience with the vessel itself.
“Beers for conversation,” said Wilson, “are beers that kind of sit in the background.”
Their beer, Cackalacky, should take on a role for hanging out with friends and relaxing. The story may not be about the beer itself, but it is about you, the consumer. It’s meant to be part of the story you want to tell.
New Belgium focused hard on this last year when the company unveiled its first TV ad since 2005 – a national spot, no less – featuring the tagline, “pairs well with people.”
But the real shift in storytelling has taken place at the macro level, where cultural shifts help to drive changes. We no longer want buxom babes or parties to sell us on our beer. Experiences and life lessons provide stronger connections. It’s perhaps rooted in aspects of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the feeling that as humans, we want to be important to each other and be a part of something bigger – a story.
For instance, take Miller Lite’s newest pitch for their beer, the “I am rich” campaign, which takes an approach I wrote about back in November to focus more on the core values of Millennial beer drinkers. In their commercials, they use the story of a 20-something male to highlight the “authenticity” of the beer and how this man (and you), along with their beer, can find value in life:
Friends coming into his apartment are greeted by his dog, while a voiceover suggests that his apartment overlooks Central Park and that they are greeted by his butler.
“My helipad is being resurfaced, so tonight we travel by more humble means,” the voiceover says, as you see the man and his friends walking down the street.
The push comes as smaller craft beers, often seen as more authentic by consumers, have eaten away at the sales of some more established brands.
“The search for authenticity is something that’s really important right now,” said Amanda Devore, marketing manager for Miller High Life. She said that Miller High Life has “great heritage” and “it’s the right time to support that.”
But it doesn’t end there. Consider Miller Fortune, which is promoted as an upscale beer for 20-somethings that encourages drinkers to create a story of their own and “open Pandora’s bottle“:
In one commercial, Mr. Strong says, “You never know where Fortune leads.” In another, he urges a millennial to go back into a bar he just left, “fight the coming of tomorrow and make it the kind of night most men can only dream of.” The spots end with the declaration, “Your Fortune awaits.”
AB InBev is also focusing on this advertising style with one of the country’s fastest growing “craft” brands: Shock Top.
Members of the company recently participated in a special YouTube “bootcamp” in order to learn tricks of the trade for creating online video content. The reason? Their brand new campaign to encourage drinkers to “Live Life Unfiltered” with their beer.
For early brand commercials, that meant one man hiking to “America’s highest bar” in Telluride, Colo. and a woman who wanted to jump from the world’s tallest bungee bridge in South Africa. In both cases, Shock Top is telling the story how these people are living “unfiltered” with the help of their beer, showing that as a lifestyle brand, Shock Top is able to help consumers live the stories they want.
And there lies the problem.
What’s the contrast you see here between craft and Big Beer? These are admittedly cherry-picked, but I’d dare say craft advertising, no matter what it may be, differs in this big way: Big Beer wants to be a part of your story, but they want to narrate it. Craft also wants to be a part of your story, but they want you to lead the way.
As marketing continues to shift, this will be pivotal. Consumers – especially those craft-chugging Millennials – don’t want to be told what to do. Brand loyalty is no longer guaranteed. Not just as drinkers – but as humans – we want to be part of something big. We want to be part of a story.
But for beer companies, it’s important to remember that when everyone is trying to tell your story for you, all they have to do is stop and listen to realize you’re the better story teller. It’s in our nature, after all.
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac