Readers of the print edition of Beverage World each month may be familiar with our Connections section, where we look at how the emerging world of social media is being harnessed by beverage companies in their marketing programs. In the upcoming April edition, I explore some of the ways Anheuser-Busch is making use of social media to create deeper connections with its Budweiser consumers.
One of A-B's recent successes in this area was around a Super Bowl ad it ran in Canada, called Flash Fans 2012. It's a really great ad and I suggest you click on the link if you haven't already seen it.
When I interviewed Budweiser's global marketing director, Jorge Meza, for April's Connections article, he gave me a little bit more background about the ad:
“It’s such a moving piece,” he said. “it gives consumers a little bit of the flavor of what it means to live a dream.”
Meza says the response to the ad has been, "amazing," adding, "What’s interesting is that this video started only on Facebook and because of the viral power that it had, it very quickly generated half a million views. So, even before we actually had shown it during the Super Bowl, it was racking up views and a lot of buzz online. So by the time it was in the Super Bowl it was already a phenomenon in Canada.”
“Steve believed the corner bar to be the most egalitarian of all American gathering places, and he knew that Americans have always venerated their bars, saloons, taverns, and ‘gin mills,’ one of his favorite expressions. He knew that Americans invest their bars with meaning and turn to them for everything from glamour to succor, and above all for relief from that scourge of modern life—loneliness. He didn’t know that the Puritans, upon landing in the New World, built a bar even before they built a church.” — “The Tender Bar,” J.R. Moehringer
In his 2005 memoir, “The Tender Bar,” J.R. Moehringer recounts how the local tavern in Manhasset, Long Island, where he grew up, served as his home away from home, with all of the people who frequented it nurturing him and helping him grow into the man he is today. “Americans have always venerated their bars,” Moehringer writes.
That is, until recently. Times change, and so does, apparently, where Americans like to stop for a drink. For better or worse, the independent neighborhood tavern is disappearing from the American landscape. According to a recent article in USA Today, “Neighborhood taverns, which for generations were cornerstones of Chicago’s ethnic communities, are being squeezed out by the economy, gentrification, changing tastes and city regulations that make it more difficult to operate in residential areas.” The article goes on to say that in Chicago, the number of tavern licenses has dwindled from 3,300 in 1990 to about 1,200 today.
And the U.S. is not alone. Even in the U.K., where the neighborhood pub has been even more important to the social fabric, a similar trend is playing out. Six British pubs were closing every day, according to one recent survey, a trend attributed to the smoking ban, the huge discounts for alcohol offered by retail chains, and, of course, the effects of the recession on extra spending money.
Here in the U.S., a big part of the reason also has been the proliferation of national chain restaurants, with their flashier, brightly lit bars and big-screen TVs. I’d venture another reason as well—the rise of social media. In “The Tender Bar,” Moehringer describes how the other bar-goers became his extended family. Log onto Facebook today and our lists of friends have become the digital equivalent. That’s not to say we don’t still want to see them in the flesh to hoist a real, not a virtual, pint. But with all that Facebooking, friending, Tweeting and FarmVilleing, how much time does that leave for a trip down to the neighborhood bar?
Is this for better or for worse? I’d argue it’s for the worse. America has become a country where people of different political persuasions or different social strata rarely come into contact with one another. And that is an important ingredient for a healthy democracy to function. To mull this issue or that over a beer with your neighbors at the corner bar used to be as important as the U.S. Senate debating and filtering down the latest piece of legislation. Just think of all the mulling we’ve been missing.
I just wanted to give you a quick heads-up that the submission deadline for the Third Annual Beverage World BevStar Awards is fast approaching.
The awards recognize innovations across the major beverage categories, introduced to the market--US or abroad--during the past 18 months. You can submit as many products as you'd like, as long as they've been released within that time period. We'll award gold, silver and bronze medals in each of those categories, as well as a Best in Show award and special achievement awards for Marketing Innovation, Social Media Initiatives and Environmental Sustainability.
We're happy to announce a new category this year: mead, cider and sake. We felt that these fermented classics got lost within beer, wine and spirits, especially since sake is actually closer to beer than it is wine even though it's frequently lumped in with wine.
Other categories include carbonated soft drinks, water/enhanced water, functional & energy, beer, wine & spirits and ready-to-drink tea.
The first step is to email your submission to email@example.com. That message should include:
• Product Name
• Parent Company
• High-resolution product image
• A brief description of the product and why you believe it should win a BevStar Award — maximum 75 words please
• The names of any packaging design, ingredient and branding companies that played a key role in the development of the product
If your entry passes the initial screening process, expect an email directing you where to mail a product sample.
If there’s one thing I’ve found that unifies disparate nations far and wide, it’s their beer cultures. There are, of course, the obvious ones like Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Australia, Canada and, of course, the U.S. But then there are places that many people wouldn’t necessarily consider to be synonymous with this millennia-old fermented favorite.
Case in point: Vietnam.
I was in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) a few weeks ago and got to experience the Vietnamese beer culture first hand. As expected, it manifest itself most ubiquitously in the form of bottled and canned pale lagers—typically the country’s domestic 333 brand, or city-specific offerings like Bia Saigon, both from Vietnam’s largest brewer Sabeco; imports like Heineken and Singapore’s Tiger brand were also prominent. They’re widely available at most street food stands for around 15,000-20,000 VND—a whopping 75 cents to $1 in U.S. currency.
However, locals put their own spin on the beer drinking experience by—get ready for this—pouring it over large cubes of ice. While most Westerners would cringe over the practice, it actually makes sense considering refrigeration is not always a given, especially at those aforementioned street stands. (Believe it or not, the lack of refrigeration is a good thing. There are fewer places on earth you can get such delicious street food as Vietnam, primarily because everything is super fresh—it has to be.) Even when the beer is refrigerated, drinkers still get a mug with ice.
But lately something’s been changing in that Southeast Asian country. The influx of international investment that’s occurred over the past decade-plus—thanks to the normalization of diplomatic relations with the West in the mid-’90s—has not only whetted the growing Vietnamese middle class’ appetite for Western fashions from the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, but also for new frontiers in beer. Yes, craft/micro-brewing has come to Vietnam. I’ve sampled a couple of the brands, Gammer and Big Man Beer, both of which are influenced heavily by Czech and German traditions.
Most commonly, one would find “black” and “gold” varieties. The closest approximation, flavor-wise, of the darker of the two ranges from a slightly sweeter German-style Schwarzbier to a roasty, coffee-like porter-ish expression. The golds tend to resemble, in taste and appearance, unfiltered Czech-style pilseners. In the bars that offer them, they’re available on draft and, in many cases, 5-liter minikegs. Craft brewing in Vietnam is still in its infancy—think early-to-mid ’80s in the U.S.—but it’s a clear sign that the movement toward artisanal, flavor-forward beers is a truly global one. And although the styles may have originated in the West, consumption practices are 100 percent local in nature: Regardless of how cold the blacks and golds are coming out of the tap, many are still putting ice in their glass. I guess old habits die hard.
In my previous column, I discussed how we are witnessing a global trend of “people power.”
Everyone from governments to corporate behemoths have had to sit up and take notice that they are not quite as in charge as they think they are. Instead, there has been a shift in power from those at the top to those at the bottom, noticeable from uprisings on the streets, to the consumer uprising over Coke’s holiday white cans (of course of vastly different significance for humanity, it goes without saying).
Weeks after I finished writing that column came the news of Samuel Adams’ Facebook-based crowd sourcing initiative, yet another example of people power. Only this time, it’s an example of a company getting out in front of the people power trend, instead of being caught blindsided by it.
If you haven’t heard about it, here it is in a nutshell: The nation’s largest craft brewer, and one of its modern day pioneers, has turned to its thousands of fans on Facebook, asking them to design its next beer. They call it the Crowd Craft Project.
I just paid it a visit and came away thinking this is pretty much one of the most brilliant uses of social media in the beverage business I have seen so far.
After first “liking” the Crowd Craft Page, the visitor uses a sliding scale to enter preferences for color, clarity, body (mouth feel), malt (sweetness), hops (bitterness) and yeast (finish/complex flavors).
Participating in this social media experiment was not only a lot of fun, but also really educational. And that’s why I think it’s so brilliant, not only for Samuel Adams, but for craft beer in general. American beer drinkers, indeed many beer drinkers around the world, might think they know beer. But if they take a few minutes to become part of the Crowd Craft Project they will come away thinking, “Hey, there’s a whole lot more to beer than I thought!” And that will generate a whole lot of excitement for Samuel Adams, and for the craft beer category in general.
So that’s why I think Samuel Adams’ Crowd Craft Project is a winner. It hits all the right notes (pun intended), using the power of social media to meet head-on a world where power is increasingly shared and interactive.