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Keep it real, beer: what Gen Y expects from your Authenticity Narrative

2015 has been over-welcomed with the warm sound of cheers and clinking bottles. Super Bowl XLIX has just flown by and empty beer crates are still lining our sidewalks. Perfect timing to pour a glass, fire up that search engine and do some thinking around authenticity, LDA (Legal Drinking Age) Millennials and the adult beverage industry. Let’s get down to business. Cheers.

Micro Craft vs. Mass: the Great War of Authenticity

Faced with declining YoY sales figures for some of their flagship brands and to counter the head-spinning speed at which the craft category is expanding, the Titans of the Brewing World got their craft on. Over the past 5 years, Heineken, SABMiller and AB InBev have rediscovered, borrowed or bought their way into the world of authenticity and nostalgic tradition.

US brands like Shock Top, Goose Island and Blue Moon use craft beer marketing cues on all levels (packaging, on- and off-premise strategies, communication), yet they are mass produced. Thus technically not falling into the definition of American craft brewers, they compete for share of throat in the same space, causing bitterness among craft brewers and outrage among beer lovers.

This conquest has lead Big Beer to shop for local breweries or relied on (questionable) rebranding strategies to tell a ‘new-old’ story about an existing brand. February last year for example, the campaign for Heineken’s Kronenbourg 1664 brand was banned for faking French heritage.

2014 Kronenbourg 1664 campaign by How Cool Brands Stay Hot

There is no doubt that nostalgia and tradition have a great sales pitch track record – and not just in beer. Paul Ross, CEO of Edrington Americas (the guys who make Macallan scotch – rings a bell?) says:

“There is a real nostalgia about liquor. You can see it in the sales figures and the online searches of heritage brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. That nostalgia is tied to craft, and I define craft as an excellent product with an authentic story about the people behind it. […] We doubled our sales in the US in the last three years (to just under $200 million).”

But does authenticity, in this sense, actually matter to Gen Y consumers, or are we looking at this from too narrow an angle? To what extent is this a fight worth fighting and is there a way for Big Beer and craft beer to bury the hatchet and move on? And if so, where do we go from here?

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: Do #Millennial consumers really care about craft vs mass produced #beer? insit.es/16h4eu6 by @giuliagasperi via @CoolBrands #GenY

Taking a step back: Authenticity in the eyes of Gen Y

At first glance, Gen Y’s relationship with authenticity seems extremely fickle. I’d like to borrow 2 classic How Cool Brands Stay Hot examples here and the fact that they’re not even in-category brings this point even more to life:

Gen Y considers Häagen-Dazs-style branding ‘funny and cunning’ because it looks Scandinavian although it is 100% Brooklyn. Yet, they watch the Adidas ad below (featuring the true story behind Adidas) and write it off as complete marketing BS.

Jumping back to beer, the race for craft has triggered typical Gen Y reactions like the development of Craft Check, an app that specializes in reading beer labels to assess how authentic your craft brew really is.

Craft Check iTunes by How Cool Brands Stay HOt

The trick in unraveling this apparent contradiction is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture: authenticity is nothing but a form of realness. And realness can be many things. If you think about realness as a big box, like the one below, authenticity is the comfort zone of many liquor brands – but that’s not where the magic happens. We’ve taken a look at what makes Gen Y tick these days to uncover some of that magic for you.

Get outside of your comfort zone


Realness means many things

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: 4 illustrations of what realness means to #Milllennials insit.es/16h4eu6 by@GiuliaGasperi via @CoolBrands #GenY

To inspire your brand, I picked the following 4 examples. Realness can mean…

1. …faking finding common ground

Breaking down a brand’s DNA can lead to great discoveries. It’s one of these discoveries that lead Johnny Walker to targeting tech influencers. Sounds weird? JW realized that at the very core, they shared the same pioneering spirit the digital community embraces every day. That’s why they decided to fund a HuffPost content series called The Next Step.

Deciding not to target an over-targeted segment is what led beer brand Garagista to declare war on hipsters with an incredibly refreshing campaign and unassuming, inclusive communication style.

Similarly, stepping away from target-based branding and embracing other angles. ‘Celebrating good times’ is the only common denominator for audience targeting in 72andSunny’s Smirnoff campaign, ‘Exclusively for Everybody’.

2. …investing in resources that add real value, by endorsing a subculture and sustaining endorsement over time

Heineken has successfully added design as a fourth activation platform (next to film, sports and music) and in the past 3 years engaged with the design community and consumers. The Heineken Open Design Challenges are now a core piece of Heineken’s annual content calendar and they are a real way to connect with the ever so popular creative class target segment. More than that, they commit to opening doors to young talent across different design disciplines worldwide, integrating them in their yearly innovation challenges, alongside consumers.

3. …telling a story that is relevant and real and lives on through its audience

Streamlined cross-platform experiences alongside good content and a step away from usual category clichés are what define 72andSunny’s ‘Busch Heroes‘ campaign, that promotes sharing by allowing consumers to nominate friends and relatives who earned it.

Busch Heroes

4. …bringing real sensory experiences to life

The race for authenticity implies that good product flavor, quality and craft go hand in hand – but instead of looking at the production process, realness can also focus on the consumer side of the story.

Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial proudly positions Bud as ‘Macro Beer’ – at the same time poking lighthearted fun at micro-craft-brew-style communication and focusing on sensory experiences of end consumers, ultimately presenting Bud unapologetically for what it is.

Below are beer can concepts developed by Spanish agency Txaber. They dial up the visual appeal and simplicity of beer cans by giving you a glimpse of what’s inside – and in a shelf environment all beer cans together would make a fantastic shopping aisle.

Txaber beer can concepts

And to wrap up…

Here’s the best part about broadening a brand’s angle on authenticity and embracing realness: suddenly, there is so much white space to conquer and so much new stuff to do. Big Beer has the resources and reach to lever so much more than tradition, while smaller craft players are bound to keep the authenticity narrative alive through their own original, first-hand stories.

Here’s my toast to great things to come for both: keep it real, folks. Cheers!

Posted in Insights