IS BUD LIGHT STILL THE REAL BREW OF GENIUS?
Because beer always makes you smarter.
The Bud Light Real Men Of Genius radio campaign went away in 2008 after 7 inspired years.
It was epic, it made the brand a market leader, and was parodied endlessly (and badly) in small-business, local-radio advertising.
Since then, But Light has not had such a juggernaut--but today, they may be on the brink.
This morning, I was confronted with a video of a town crier standing inside a craft brewery in Minneapolis. He was reading a "Hear ye! Hear ye!" to everyone in the place.
It was a cease & desist letter from Bud Light to the craft brewer.
So, I thought, "Hold my beer. Watch this. I'm going to find out more."
The story is interesting, and it's a useful brand advertising lesson--even for the small-business owner.
Have you heard that? Have you said it?
I hadn't until this morning. I haven't been watching a lot of commercial TV lately.
But it seems that Bud Light and their agency, Wieden + Kennedy, is drafting off of the zeitgeist. In this particular case, it's the mania around Game of Thrones.
They've done it with a commercial that shows a royal banquet room, and a line of subjects paying obeisance to the king. As people step up and offer sixes and cases of Bud Light to the king, the king raises his own Bud Light and proclaims each person, "A true friend of the crown! Dilly, dilly!"
And everyone in the banquet room responds by raising their own Bud Lights and crying, "Dilly, dilly!"
This happens a couple of times, and then another gentleman steps up and offers a large brown bottle, without a label, and sealed with red wax. He puts it in front of the king, who says, "What, um, what is that?"
"This is a spiced honey mead wine that I have really been into lately."
WHAT FOLLOWS IS A LONG, UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE
Then, the king says to the gent, "Please follow Sir Brad. He's going to give you a private tour of the Pit of Misery."
The hapless fellow is hauled off while everyone happily toasts, "To the misery! Dilly, dilly!"
The announcer chimes in over a shot of the Bud Light logo rendered in rice, barley, hops, and the head of a beer: "Here's to the friends you can always count on. Bud Light, brewed to be America's favorite light lager."
Oh, boy. Ya know what's going on here?
This is an attack ad.
Very funny. Really well produced.
But it's an attack ad.
IT'S TAPPING INTO THE GAME OF THRONES ZEITGEIST AND ATTACKING CRAFT BREWING
If you don't know, craft brewing has become HUGE.
It's huge enough that there are now three fundamental problems.
One, craft brewers are having a hard time competing with one another because there's so much competition and a limited market.
Two, consumers are suffering from FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. When they look at a wall of craft beers in the liquor store, they become anxious and don't know what to buy, fearing they may be missing something better than what they'll choose.
And three, craft brewers are eating into big brewers' market share.
And I've got to be honest, as a guy who's been a fan of craft beers since they began bubbling up in the 1990s, even I'm over it. There are plenty of great beers out there. But the preciousness and the overtness and the slam-you-in-the-face-ness of so many of these beers is out of hand.
AND YES, I'M THE GUY WHO LAST WEEK THREW LAURELS TO A NANO-BREWER
Mad Fritz, the Napa Valley nano-brewery, is a brilliant brand.
It's not precious. It's intelligent and arcane and balanced and specialized and scarce.
But so many craft brewers are so clever and working so hard for people who are so pretentious about their beer.
I get it. This is the pendulum swinging the other way after decades of mega-brewery domination.
So...where's the attack?
One, the subject presents a precious bottle of spiced mead (which, if you don't know, is a honey wine).
Two, he presents the bottle with the cliché qualifier, "That I've really been into lately."
And three, the announcer says, "Here's to the friends you can always count on. Bud Light, brewed to be America's favorite light lager."
A POX ON CRAFT BREW HEADS!
Long live the light lager!
Can you imagine any big brewer even five years ago using a line like, "America's favorite light lager."
They'd say, "Beer."
They'd use modifiers like, "light," or "crisp," or "refreshing."
They might say something unqualified like, "Beechwood aged!" (I once read an article by a reporter who called Budweiser to find out what "Beachwood aged" actually meant. The reply from the person at the other end was essentially, "Well, you know, beechwood. It's beechwood aged!")
Beer has been a commodity product.
AND NOW, COMMODITY THINKING IS BEING UNDERMINED BY ARTISAN THINKING
Regardless of how you feel about craft beer (I feel it's a good thing), it's not hard to see how this happened.
A landscape of fizzy yellow beers was infected by variety and flavor and choice and surprise.
Yes, craft beers are surprising. Not always in a good way. A top-fermented, dry-hopped ale that tastes of rosebuds, garlic and old gym socks may not be a good surprise.
Nonetheless, it has become a pervasive threat to the market dominance of brands like Bud Light, a brand whose core, die-hard fan is intolerant of things like craft beer. I know people like this. They are single-beer fanatics and they are angry at craft brewing.
Bud Light is shooting fish in a barrel--and being really funny.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE TOWN CRIER?
Back to the brewery in Minneapolis.
The brewery is called Modist. Not sure how you pronounce it.
Modist very recently released a brew called, "Dilly Dilly Mosaic Double IPA."
Mosiac is a strain of hops. It is known for its complex and broad aromas backed by a clean bittering. If you care.
Modist put this brew in their taproom only. They did not release it widely.
They created a logo that said, "Dilly Dilly" in a blatant rip-off of the Bud Light swirl logo.
ON NOVEMBER 28, THEY ANNOUNCED IT ON THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE
They posted that they were releasing it on December 1.
The same day they released it, they posted a video of the town crier standing in their lobby, reading the cease & desist "proclamation" aloud.
The town crier's message included a request to make sure this ale was a one-time-only occurrence, and offers the brewery two free tickets to the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
They next day, Modist posted a picture of the town crier's scroll and the "Dilly Dilly" ripoff logo, with the message, "Come drink this beer before we rename it 'Coat Tails.'"
I smell a publicity stunt cooked up by Anheuser Busch, whose parent company is not known for being so kind with its C&Ds.
Nonetheless, it's fun, it's well-crafted, it bears retelling, it's good advertising, and a good stunt for the press.
WHAT'S THE TAKEAWAY FOR YOU?
One, no business of any size is too small for a publicity stunt. I've done it with a tiny business, getting them coverage in a major metropolitan daily. You need to be creative, relevant, and interesting.
Two, your business can be a threat to the bigger market leaders. You just need to understand how to be different and resonant and offer your core customer a better reality.
And three, never discount the value of making the prospect feel the right thing. "Here's to friends you can count on." That is a simple, unsophisticated, artless sentiment--and it's going to sell a lot more beer than it deserves. It's also part of the Famous Among Friends conceit that Bud Light has been using for over 30 years.
BUD LIGHT APPEARED AT MODIST WITH GREAT ALACRITY
The town crier was on the scene so quickly, and Modist was so on top of the situation, that it smacks of benign collusion.
And the fact that Bud Light is acknowledging Modist in this way (and likely partnering with them) demonstrates that they probably aren't as down on craft beer as their advertising might imply.
Instead, they could be preparing to invest in Modist, if not preparing to buy them outright.
Tell that to craft brewers Goose Island, Blue Point, Breckenridge, Golden Road, Four Peaks, 10 Barrel, Devils Backbone and Karbach--all of whom have been acquired by Anheuser Busch.
Your brand is also never too small to be acquired by a giant.
For a peek at "Dilly Dilly," Click here: https://youtu.be/D8Cb5Wk2t-8
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
ARE YOU STUCK ON YOUR BRAND?
And if you were paying attention on or after September 25, you've seen the video.
It's ridiculous. Those of us who appreciate the value of brands and trademarks and intellectual property rights have been having a good laugh.
And judging from the near 400,000 views at YouTube over the last week, it seems there are a few of us.
The video is called simply, "Don't Say Velcro."
It features an ostensible cast of lawyers for Velcro explaining why you should not be using the registered trademark name "Velcro" for describing just any hook & loop fastener--and they're doing it with a big, goofy rock anthem that recalls "We Are The World."
HAVING TROUBLE RECALLING "WE ARE THE WORLD?"
It was the 1985 charity single for African famine relief.
Recorded by a vast supergroup of musical stars, it was a big, swelling rock song dreamed up by Harry Belafonte, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced by Quincy Jones, and featured almost anyone you can name.
It became famous for a note pinned to the entrance of the studio: "Please check your egos at the door."
And now, 30+ years later, Velcro is borrowing the conceit of the rock super anthem as an awareness tool to get you to stop saying "Velcro" every time you encounter a hook & loop fastener.
BECAUSE IT DILUTES THE POWER OF THEIR TRADEMARK
The patent for Velcro-brand fasteners expired many years ago, so there are plenty of other hook & loop fasteners out there.
Why does this matter to Velcro?
Every time the trade name "Velcro" is used to describe some other brand, it increases the risk of Velcro Companies losing its trademark--and that would be catastrophic.
Did you know the generic word "aspirin" used to be a trademark?
IT WAS A HUGE MONEYMAKER FOR THE GERMAN PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY, BAYER
But because the name fell into rampant use by other companies around the world, and Bayer didn't defend it sufficiently, they lost their trademark.
It means they lost the exclusive right to market their own creation under its brand name.
Bayer also trademarked the name, "Heroin," which was marketed as a morphine substitute lacking morphine's addictive side effects, but that's another story.
As is Bayer losing the heroin trademark in 1919 in the wake of World War I under the Treaty Of Versailles.
As we often do here in the weekly screed, we digress.
Because you, like us, appreciate ridiculous trivia.
So, back to the ridiculousness of this Velcro video.
THE ABSURD, ANTHEMIC POWER OF THE VIDEO IS CAPTIVATING
The over-the-top craziness of this band of lawyers is impressive.
As is the production value--and the sensibility that created all this.
As part of the song goes:
And we know that this is confusing,
because Velcro Brand is who we are.
But if you call it call 'velcro'...
we're gonna lose that circled 'R'.
This is called 'hook and loop,'
This part's a hook, this part's a loop.
You call it 'velcro,' but we're begging you,
This is (bleep)-ing 'hook and loop.'
And yes, the "bleeping" is part of the video, the word they bleep is never heard, and you know exactly what the word is.
And Velcro Companies claims to be doing this on behalf of all brand names that struggle to protect their trademark, like Rollerblade-branded inline skates, Xerox-branded photocopiers and Band-Aid-branded bandages.
BUT HOW DID THIS CRAZINESS HAPPEN, AND WHAT CAN WE GET FROM IT?
This is a perfect storm of cooperation, sensibility, creativity, and an overarching plan.
The video was created by a North Carolina digital agency called Walk West.
In the making-of video (yes, there really is one), a Walk West Creative Consultant named Penn Holderness says, "Velcro Companies came to us with this educational brand campaign. We had a blast just looking at their creative brief and we said, so what if we just really kind of turned this into a ridiculous 1980s 'We Are The World' style benefit but for something that really is a first world problem?"
OK, it started creative. But how did the actual lawyers feel about it?
In the video, Velcro Companies' Legal Consultant Alexandra DeNeve says, "When they came back with this concept it was, for me, it was just like 'Eureka!' That's it."
Mr. Holderness goes on to say, "Once we met them and saw not only how approachable, friendly, [and] real they were and they were bold and they wanted to...take some chances... Velcro Companies has a really good, close-knit relationship between marketing and legal. And you kind of needed that."
I queried a friend and business associate who happens to be a certifiable smart person. She's also a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She says of the Velcro effort, "It's so uncool it's cool! And that's a pretty massive triumph for an IP issue. I also like it that these lawyers come across as endearingly human in all their geekiness, especially the guy who points out hooks and loops."
BELYING THE CRAZINESS IS RELEVANCE AND COOPERATION
In all the years I have been doing this, lawyers are often referred to as the Advertising Prevention Department.
Here's the thing about lawyers: If you can talk to them before you start working, if you can make friends with them and understand where the lines are, you really can go to the edge.
Lawyers can be friends of creative work if you bring them in early.
And at the risk of coming off as a cockeyed sexist piglet, I'm going to note that the lawyer quoted earlier is a woman.
Many screeds ago, we discussed a hedge fund manager we know who likes investing in companies with female CFOs.
He says the female CFOs often have a better outlook, that their approach to the job and the company is more holistic and not just about the balance sheet.
Maybe that extends to female lawyers. I queried our friend and business associate on this. She replies, "Interesting and complicated question. I think it's generally true. I also think that because of the gender-related pressure (and racial, for that matter) that any such tendencies tend to get suppressed in larger firms. Which is a real shame. But there's tremendous unspoken pressure (against the backdrop of "we love diversity!") to be just like the power people, who are mostly WASPy men... and so it goes."
Speaking as a WASPy man, this latter challenge is disappointing. But again, I digress.
CARRYING THE CONCEIT THROUGH TO OTHER TOUCHPOINTS
One of the problems with stunts like this video is often, they aren't carried through to the rest of the advertiser's touch points.
Velcro Companies has thought this through.
Now, using the trade name "Google" as a verb us another trademark problem. Nonetheless...
If you go Google the phrase "Don't say velcro," there's a link to their website, with the video right there in the banner, under the headline, "We ®VELCRO® Brand."
Beneath that, there's the headline, "Never a Noun. Never a Verb. Always on Brand."
The copy says, "We know. You don't mean to be a serial verber, but we decided to clear a few things up about using the VELCRO® trademark correctly--because we're lawyers and that's what we do. When you use "velcro" as a noun or a verb (e.g., velcro shoes), you diminish the importance of our brand and us lawyers would lose our *insert unfastening sound.*"
AND, YOU'RE INVITED TO JOIN THE CAUSE
Another headline reads, "Take a Stand with our VELCRO® Brand."
"It's not about doing it for us, it's about doing the right thing. Successful brands around the world need your support to help protect trademark guidelines. Pledge to end the era of broken trademark laws."
And you can opt-in for an email list.
And oh, just by the way, you also have the opportunity to find out all about the various Velcro products and how they improve your life.
And yes, they're even down to the minutiae of hash-tagging #dontsayvelcro. And tweets from fans are embedded in the "Don't Say Velcro" page.
BUT CAN THE SMALL-BUSINESS BRAND REALLY DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
Maybe not as enormously production intensive.
But it's entirely possible to start a movement, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise.
Online videos can be produced fairly inexpensively. Big expensive production value often isn't a requirement--but being thoughtful and consistent is.
In an age of WYSIWIG, drag & drop web development platforms, a dedicated website for the movement can be created very quickly and inexpensively. But again: thoughtfulness and consistency.
Using Facebook to promote the message can be done fairly cheaply. With the right material, people will pay attention. (Presently, a video for one of our clients has reached 2,000 people, almost 25% of whom have watched it more than once, 70% of viewers are staying all the way through it, and almost all of them are watching it with the sound on. The media cost? 50 bucks.)
Conflict is engaging. Humor with a core of truth is engaging. Letting people in on the joke and letting them play is engaging.
But like anything else, it needs to be done thoughtfully and with planning. And with consistency.
And it needs to inspire the core customer to feel the right thing. Never just a joke for its own sake. Like, "This is bleeping hook and loop," always, always, the right thing.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
BIG DOGS, BIG LIES?
If you've been hanging around here for any length of time, you're sick of hearing us say it.
Your brand is the one way your Core Customer should feel about your business.
One way, because focus is essential.
Feel, because all decisions--including buying decisions--are made emotionally and justified later.
Core Customer because, when you understand the one person to whom you're speaking, you understand how to be resonant and relevant.
With that in mind, allow us to look at that simple, ground-corn product, the humble tortilla chip.
Specifically, let's look at a small, regional brand here in the west that goes by the name, Juanita's.
JUANITA'S IS A TORTILLA CHIP OF DISTINCTION
This is a chip that one might refer to as "restaurant-style."
It's a rustic product made of stone-ground yellow corn, a trace of lime, vegetable oil, salt and water.
Juanita's is a classic American success story.
An immigrant Mexican family moves to Hood River, Oregon.
In the 1970s, they rent a room and start making mom's authentic, Mexican-style corn tortillas to sell in local markets.
One by one, the family members leave their other jobs and work in the tortilla factory.
Today, they're huge in a regional kind of way.
If you want to read the story, it's on their website.
On the bag, there is a topline version of the story:
"To make a great tasting tortilla chip,
you first need to know how to make
a great tortilla. For over 50 years our
mother has prepared fine, authentic
Mexican meals insisting on only the
finest ingredients. And for over 26
years our family has brought to the
public the same dedication to quality
with the brand named after
her .... Juanita's."
WHEN THE FABULOUS HONEY PARKER AND I THROW A PARTY, THIS IS OUR GO-TO CHIP
We serve it with a homemade salsa cruda, which is basically a mix of chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, salt and lime juice all stirred up in a bowl.
Our guests scarf it down. And someone always asks, "What kind of chips are these? They're great."
We show them the simple bag with its red and green logo that looks like the signage off an old Los Angeles taco joint. They nod and crunch.
Last week, when I went to buy Juanita's for our traditional July 4th barbecue at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress...
The supermarket was out.
On the shelf, there was an enormous void where our beloved Juanita's usually live.
Holiday locusts had descended ahead of me.
I began perusing the alternatives. There were a couple of brands that seemed equally rustic and unsophisticated in their branding.
But I looked at one that seemed especially relevant.
LA COCINA DE JOSEFINA
I already knew the story of Juanita's Horatio Algero roots.
I looked at the bag of chips from La Cocina De Josefina, and it seemed equally unsophisticated.
A simple drawing of a Mexican woman rolling out a tortilla by hand.
Turning the bag over, it was not dissimilar to Juanita's:
These tortilla chips are made
with the simple ingredients of
corn, oil, salt... and love, ---
because we believe that every
bag of La Cocina de Josefina chips
is an invitation. To share. To
connect. To come together with
people who are important to you.
Made right here in the Pacific
Northwest, we care greatly about
the product we create for you,
and make sure to only use quality
ingredients. The result is a flavorful
tortilla chip that we think you'll
find simply delicious. So grab
some friends, open a bag
With the dearth of Juanita's, two bags of Josefina's went into the cart.
The salsa was a hit. People scarfed down 97% of it using a bag and a half of chips.
The next evening, I was sitting with the leftover chips, considering how much they tasted like a Fritos corn chip. Could Josefina have displaced Juanita in my chip repertoire?
Looking at the bag, it seemed odd that there was no website listed in the labeling.
Wondering about Josefina's heritage, I googled her chips.
Dear God, what have I done!
This rustic tortilla chip, made with the simple ingredients of corn, oil, salt, and love...
Is a poseur!
Or, as they would say in Spanish, "Presumido!"
The chips from La Cocina De Josefina are made not with love at all, but with filthy corporate lucre!
JOSEFINA'S CHIPS AND HER SIMPLE DRAWING OF HER ROLLING OUT A TORTILLA...
...are a product of Frito-Lay, Inc.!
Be still my heart!
Nowhere on the packaging is there any indication of this relationship.
The closest they come to any admission is in the address:
Made in Vancouver, Washington
for La Cocina de Josefina by
Cocina Autentica, Inc.
4808 NW Fruit Valley Rd.
Vancouver, WA 98660
Google that address, and you get a map of Frito Lay's Vancouver production plant.
Why this lie by omission?
FOR EXACTLY THE REASON INDICATED AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS SCREED
The Frito-Lay marketing department knows that a brand is the one way the Core Customer should feel about the business.
One way, because focus is essential. They have focused on creating what seems to be a family-owned brand of chips.
Feel, because all decisions--including buying decisions--are made emotionally and justified later. And any simple chip "made with love" is a viable substitute for the absent Juanita.
And Core Customer because they want to have a voice that is resonant and relevant. They understand they are speaking to someone who appreciates the rustic family nature of Juanita's brand. Understanding how this person feels about Juanita's helps them matter in this person's quest for chips over, say, Tostitos.
But why have they done this?
Why has this big dog perpetrated this big lie by omission?
THIS IS A CORPORATE STRATEGY
Publicly, they say that they don't mention Frito-Lay because it is a regional product only. Frito-Lay is a national brand.
But dig a little deeper, and you find that Frito-Lay has a new strategy of going after strong regional brands.
And wisely, they look at someone like me, who's a fan of my regional brand. They know that in no way would I, in looking for a substitute for my Juanita's, buy a product from a subsidiary of a $75 billion company.
But the small-brand BS stamped on the back of their bag, along with the homespun look of the package, is exactly what they know I will respond to.
I have been played!
And this proves exactly why Slow Burn Marketing insists that as a small business in the 21st century, being competitive in one's marketplace requires understanding what it means to have an evocative brand.
THIS BIG DOG HAS DONE NOTHING ILLEGAL
But they have concocted an implicit lie of a brand in an effort to squeeze out a little guy.
Is it fair?
Do I have anything against Frito-Lay?
Am I glad to have been duped like this?
Because not only does it make me a smarter consumer.
IT ALSO GIVES ME GRIST FOR THE SCREED MILL
Like so much yellow corn being stoneground for tortilla chip slurry, we have a salty object lesson for the small-business marketer.
If you brand well, and you build your business, you can become a threat to the big dogs.
If you were around a few weeks ago when we talked about Dollar Shave Club and their acquisition by Unilever last year for a billion dollars cash, that's another example of threat management.
Wisdom on the street is that Unilever paid far more than the brand was worth just to prevent someone else from buying it.
Most of us will never be big enough to inspire fear and big-money attacks or acquisitions.
Some will. There are a few followers of the screed who will make it happen.
But by understanding why branding works and knowing how to throw an emotional dart at the heart of your customer, no matter how small you are, you can win big in your marketplace.
Mere component parts like corn, oil and salt are beaten into the ground by the idea of love.
Even if it's all a lie.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.