Friday, June 26, 2009

What Kind Of Story Are You Telling?

AdAge has a rather confusing, but ultimately spot-on, article about marketing. Ignoring all of the confusing stuff, there's two basic points to be taken out of it that I think are important.

Point 1. Sometimes there's no need to spend a gazillion dollars marketing a product that everyone's going to use anyway.
   Corollary to Point 1: If you know your product sucks but you spent a lot of money on it and want to re-capture as much of that money as possible, try not to show it to anyone until you actually launch the product and hope to grab as much money as humanly possible until the word-of-mouth catches up to it.

In support of Point 1, the author points to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. First, the author points to Michael Bay's incessant whining about the lack of marketing support of his movie; then, AdAge notes (via that, despite the lack of a huge marketing spend, Transformers still "raked in a record $16 million last night, the most ever for a Wednesday midnight run." AdAge pointed out that while Paramount may not have spent a lot of money, it spend it in the right places to make sure its core audience knew it was coming out (e.g., KMart, Burger King, and Candy Bars)

Point 2: Successful marketing is less about the product and more about telling the product's story.

"Optimus Prime is one badass character, sure, but the novelty of seeing characters develop and being able to essentially market that is far more enticing than trying to just market how awesome shape-shifting cars (and Megan Fox) look in the sand. ... Sony [ed note: Harry Potter] was able to flog a summertime blockbuster and compelling characters not played by the annoyingly twitchy, one-note ham Shia LaBeouf."

Leinenkugel's doesn't claim it has the best beer in the world, it attaches itself to the idea of the Northwoods and the stories of good times in a location where Leinenkugel's happens to ... ummm ... have an almost complete monopoly. Thus, your good times there were most likely had with Leinenkugel's in hand. But, nonetheless, Leinie's was there and they tie themselves to that story.

And before you say "My story is my quality." Ford had "Quality is Job Number One" and where did that get them? A recall of 10,000 Jaguars. Face it, everyone has made a beer they aren't proud of, or at the very least, has the potential to make a beer that slips through the cracks - Capital "Experimental", Lost Abbey's Angel Share, Bud Chelada, just to name a few. We, consumers, understand that everyone strives for quality and we also understand that everyone screws up - just don't make a habit of it, but you don't need to say "we care about quality" either.

It's the underlying story that consumers connect to. We drink Leinie's because it reminds us of the Northwoods (or, to be more precise, of the loose, come what may attitude of rustic vacations that says "hey, I'll try anything, I'm on an adventure"). And, when I talk about Capital being "confusing", this underlying story is exactly what I'm talking about. Capital's marketing has been very un-focused (are you golfers? are you beer geeks? are you "rustic"? are you arrogant? I've seen advertising that attempts each of these connections.) and scattershot - like they're throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. As a brewery you can't be all of these things. [Ed Note: Personally, I think the golf thing is a good place for them - it is not only upscale, but it's multi-generational and has a strong cultural connection with their suburban location and good natural compliments like boating and other luxury sports.] Sure, you can have some variation within your individual brands, but your underlying message, the house brand, needs to be consistent. And, say what you will about Leinie's, but their underlying message is consistent and we know what they are trying to say as a brand.

Stone's "attitude" works because it is not only honest (which is very hard to pull off when you pose an affront to your consumer), but it is consistent. Sam Adams' Northeast Americana works because it is consistent. Furthermore's quirkiness works because it is consistent. And the sum of the consistency across the brands tells the story that the consumers attach to.

Black pepper. Belgian and American ale. Apple cider and beer. Coffee and Mexican lager. Organic beets. These tell a story. They tell a story not only about the beer, but about the brewery. It's a story that the slogan reinforces: "Ready. Fire. Aim." It's a story that the labeling reinforces. And it's a story that the barn parties and midwest music reinforces. And that's how you tie your product to a story, make it consistent and reinforce it. I don't mean to single out Furthermore, but they do a really good job of this. But there are lots of other breweries that do a really good job of this as well: New Belgium, Three Floyds, and Sierra Nevada, among others.

"Will Harry Potter magically walk away with as much box-office loot as Sam Witwicky will? Probably not. But you're also not going to see seven installments of Transformers, either."


  1. I agree about the Capital and golf connection, though I haven't seen them try to make it. The types of beers they have introduced lately (Island Wheat, Rustic Ale, and the Supper club) are also all lawnmower-type beers that would fit a warm golf outing.
    P.S. Have you tried the Supper Club? To put it lightly, I wasn't a fan, and I'm not sure why on earth they made it. I did see a "dark lager" on the self today that looked interesting, however.

  2. Well put. Consitency and Truth are very key elements in branding. I'm too new to Wisconsin to speak about which direction Capital should go with their marketing, but I can agree with you on New Belgium and Sierra Nevada having their act together. They both have a true story about who they are what makes them special and they make sure you know that through consistent and repetitive marketing. I just hope that Capital finds their true voice someday as well.

    Gage Mitchell, AIGA

    :: Graphic Designer

  3. The "dark lager" is the old Garten Brau recipe, according to the label. I tried a sixer a week or two ago and was suitably impressed - good but not great.

    As for the golf angle, I personally really like that most courses in the Madison area have cans of US Pale or Amber available in the beer carts. My game usually gets a bit better after one, if not in score at least in enjoyment.


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