Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Ideas Bubble Up To Counter Flat Beer Sales

The beleaguered beer industry, afflicted with soft sales as wine and spirits numbers continue to rise, seems intent on trying anything that comes to mind in its search for better ways to market its products both to the hospitality industry and individual consumers.

For example, Schlitz, once a giant among brewers, is trying to recapture some of its past by reviving some of its past.

"The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous," as its marketing tagline went, is going the retro route to reestablish itself, dredging up images from its 1950s sales campaigns to grab consumer attention as well as reinstituting its gilded bottle that carried the beer in those days.

Schlitz, which has been in business for 157 years, has been hurt in its price category by rival Anheuser-Busch’s price reductions.

Says Advertising Age magazine, "Distributors say renewed marketing efforts are sorely needed for much of the low-priced portfolio of Schlitz’s marketer, San Antonio-based Pabst Brewing Co., which has suffered disproportionately from price cuts instituted by A-B’s Natural Light and Busch that rendered them cheaper than Schlitz and Pabst Blue Ribbon."

Schlitz ranked as high as No. 3 among domestic brewers before, as Advertising Age puts it, "its profile dramatically faded under a succession of owners that emphasized other brands before it."

The Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee closed in the 1990s. The beer then was brewed in Milwaukee and elsewhere under contracts.

Blue Moon beer, on the other hand, is trying to nudge its sales up by not advertising the product.

Since American craft brewers as a whole saw sales increase by 9 percent last year, the niche is getting special attention in the highly-competitive industry that has been experiencing a general downturn.

Molson Coors Brewing Co. is seizing the opportunity to shore up its sales figures by launching a national rollout campaign for its Belgian-style wheat beer, but doing it by word-of-mouth rather than through a traditional advertising campaign. The theory is that because Blue Moon, a 10-year-old brand, has seen three straight years of double-digit sales growth without advertising, why bother now?

The gimmicks aren’t stopping there. 

The words "sophistication" and "beer ads" are, for the most part, mutually exclusive. The average beer commercial shows crowds of people screaming at some sporting event, leering at scantily-clad girls, or helping a couple of loser-types get through another dateless evening in their apartment. 

There’s a new beer, brewed in Orlando, FL, whose creators are looking to sell their product a different way. "Unlike other beers, there’s no women cat-fighting in our ads, no sexy twins or cheesy underwear," says Andy Teubner, sales vice president for the company. 

I guess you don’t have to do a lot with the visuals when the name of your product is Bootie Beer. It sort of sells the cheesy idea all by itself.

The radio ads say things like "Bootie and beer, one great combination," and "Hey bootie, bootie." Clever stuff, huh?

The slang word "bootie" has its own connotations that were arrived at well before it became a brand name.

"To one person, it means having sex," says Bootie President Tania Torruella. "To another, it means going to the club and getting loose. To a third, it’s having a sophisticated dinner with dad."

I think she’s kidding us with that last definition. Nevertheless, she and her partners are spending several million on regional ad campaigns for their product.

How are they doing so far? Targeting 21- to 29-year-old male buyers who make a "grab and go" purchase before a party or a sporting event, Bootie Beer sold out its entire production run in its first 10 days.



(c) 2006 Hearst Newspapers