Of the four main reasons that entrepreneurs start a business, we have a feeling that craft brewers have the same motivations as August and Ginny did way back when: they are passionate creators.
The inspiration to craft your own beers does not only result in great tasting beverages, it also leads to a particular byproduct: the archetypal “craft beer nerd.” To add to that image, things like, beer-arcade hybrids, trivia nights and “Imperial Stout Beer” are bolstering the image of the beer nerd.
It’s hard to deny that there are plenty of intersections between beer culture and nerd culture, and in true innovative Wier and Bein style, we’ve decided to tell the story of beer marketing by comparing it to a staple of nerd culture.
We present “The History of Beer Marketing as Told by the Star Wars Franchise”
The Phantom Menace
The Phantom Menace is the opening to the Star Wars story, and it opens in peaceful bliss, although we know that a threat looms on the horizon. Enter late nineteenth century America, where sixty million barrels of beer were brewed annually. This era was in many ways a beer renaissance, since thanks to limited distribution options, beer was primarily a local industry.
Most beers drank in this time would be considered “craft beer,” since it was made with largely locally sourced ingredients and brewed to serve entire communities. In this great time for beer, demand exceeded supply, and our pioneer ancestors were drinking beer faster than it was being brewed. But of course, a threat loomed on the horizon, perhaps more evil than the Sith: Prohibition.
Attack of The Clones
For 13 years, the dark ages of prohibition reigned across the land. In 1933, adult beverages stronger than 2% ABV became legal once again, and the Great Depression came to an end (we think these two events are correlated, by the way).
Although distribution methods and technological advances meant that breweries could reach larger markets than ever before, micro-breweries that survived and thrived before 1920 were long gone. Liquor had become quite popular during prohibition, as it was easier to distill in bulk and was a more effective alcohol distribution method for rebellious drinkers.
Consumer preference had changed; liquor had started out as a substitute for beer, but by this time had market control. Since beer had become a less profitable sector, there were fewer suppliers participating in the market. What resulted was less beer produced (30 million barrels, more than half of the pre-prohibition supply,) and the most effectively marketed breweries rose to the top of the beer market.
Those breweries created mass produced domestic lagers, brews that are still widely available today in the form of Budweiser, Coors, Miller, and other familiar brands. The art of craft beer was missing in this time, and consumers were facing the attack of the clones.
Revenge of the Sith
Are you familiar with the 1950’s beer market? It’s not a story the craft brewers would tell you. In the 50s, Anheuser-Busch produced 4.9 million barrels of beer, and the top ten brewers in the nation accounted for 38% of all beer purchased during the decade.
In the 60s, the big brewers truly rose to the top, accounting for 52% of all beer sold in the nation. Anheuser-Busch nearly doubled their production in the decade, selling 8.9 million barrels. The big breweries didn’t even spare the Yuengling Brewing Company, the oldest brewery in America. It seemed that America’s beer market would forever be limited to watered-down lagers.
A New Hope
Things were certainly looking bleak for craft brewers; in 1978, craft beer hit an all-time low, as less than 100 breweries existed across the entire nation. But things were changing; home brewing had started to rise in popularity. Home brewing was a grassroots rebellion against bland beer, and more luxurious imports were too pricey for the average consumer. Home brewing allowed for the consumer, particularly beer nerds to experience traditions that had been missing from American culture for nearly half a century.
By the 1990s, craft beer was in full swing, growing its market share by as much as 58% in 1995. The smallest growth occurred in 1991, at a still massive 35%. Things were looking hopeful once again, but as always, the Empire of large breweries had control and wanted to squash this rebellion.
The Empire Strikes Back
Craft beer was growing, but big breweries had market control and years of profit and resources available. They began purchasing microbreweries and selling mass-produced beer sold under what looked like a craft brand.
The marketing geniuses that worked for this empire also began introducing more premium beers, and the craft beer market was slowed in between 1997 and 2003, where there once rapid growth was stagnant, with growth rates between 1-5%. Many breweries ended the rebellion and closed their doors, but many persist.
Return of the Jedi
With nearly 2,000 microbreweries in operation today, it’s safe to say that America’s fine tradition of craft brewing is alive and thriving. Indian Pale Ale is the top selling style of beer in the country, a reflection of the expansion of craft brewing.
Driven by innovation and diverse offering, the craft beer industry looks like it’s here to stay. America’s beer history is fascinating and complex, and fortunately, we’re in a golden age that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Cheers to the great brewers who are fueling this revolution, we sip to you!
We hope that this Star Wars adaptation of beer marketing spoke to some of our beer nerds. We love tailoring messages to specific segments, and we’re pretty good at it. That’s why many our clients have trusted Wier & Bein for their branding and advertising needs. With an expert staff that can deliver the digital strategy needed to build brand awareness, drive traffic and build sales, we’d be happy to help you and your brewery develop the right branding and messaging for you. Contact us today to get started!