In what can only be described as a case of "hoppy trails," New Belgium Brewing Co. is this week launching Ranger India Pale Ale -- a hoppier-than-usual offering from the nation's third-largest craft brewer, and one that owes its inception (and its advertising "stars") to its road team, a/k/a sales force.
"The request to get something 'hoppy' into our portfolio came from our 'Beer Rangers,' which is our affectionate name for our sales force," reveals New Belgium director of public relations Bryan Simpson.
Consumer demand for hops-heavy brews is a well-established trend on the West Coast and a growing phenomenon elsewhere, but Belgian beers generally aren't hoppy -- leaving an untapped niche for Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium, the "Rangers" pointed out, explains Simpson.
The name genesis of the new ale (an "IPA," in brewer terminology) is obvious. But the marketing campaign supporting its launch from Denver-based Cultivator Advertising & Design has some surprises, even for diehard New Belgium aficionados. Some might venture to term it entertainingly tongue-in-cheek, if not an outright barrel of laughs.
The campaign theme -- taglined "New Belgium Beer Ranger. To Protect. To Pour. To Partake" -- is being communicated in true integrated fashion ... one twist being the use of the brewer's own sales road warriors (male and female) as the "Beer Rangers" actually featured in the advertising.
Clad in scout-like tan-and-olive uniforms complete with wide-brimmed hats, kerchiefs and gaiters, the Rangers appearing in print ads, online, POS materials and funky on-premises promotions pull off that "mountie" attitude (in addition to being, presumably, cost-effective).
And they do so even as they're pictured standing next to fat-tired bikes, rather than the expected trusty equine partners -- the bikes that are a signature for the employee-owned brewer, reflecting its commitment to sustainable practices ranging from encouraging biking as a transportation mode to use of wind power to recycling/ reusing/composting 73% of its waste stream.
The Ranger IPA campaign is employing back covers and two-sided inserts (breaking in February) in national magazines including Rolling Stone, Outside, Wired, Bike and Dirt Rag as well as single pages in local weeklies across New Belgium's 26-state territory. That territory includes liquor and grocery stores and bars/restaurants in all states west of the Mississippi except Louisiana, Oklahoma and Utah, plus Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia east of The Big Muddy.
According to Simpson, magazine/print ads are a fairly standard marketing component for New Belgium, which currently offers eight year-round craft brands (including Ranger) plus four regular seasonal releases and four special/more "challenging" releases (dubbed "Lips of Faith" varieties) each year.
Gung-ho account efforts by New Belgium's sales force are also de rigueur -- although enthusiasm borne of the Rangers' unusually direct roles in product inception/featured ad icons, plus strong initial retail reception, may be pumping up the volume, suggests Simpson, alluding to numerous blind comparison taste tests as one example.
On-premises events for patrons likewise aren't new for New Belgium (or pretty much any brewer or spirits distiller). But for Ranger IPA, the antics include real-live Rangers hitting the bars to deputize "honorary" Rangers willing to stick their heads through a cut-out hole in a life-size Beer Ranger canvas for a souvenir photo.
Ranger IPA's launch also features the first brand microsite launched by the now 19-year-old brewing company, which was started out of a home basement by Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan. (Jordan is the company's current CEO; Lebesch recently retired.)
The microsite (newbelgium.com/rangerland) spotlights a video starring real New Belgium sales Rangers jiving to a hip-hop theme -- a theme created by the Rangers themselves, according to Simpson. It also includes an invitation to friend New Belgium on Facebook, and a cut-and-paste Ranger Yourself"? function (your headshot on a Ranger body, uploaded to your wall). More practically, a locator tool points users toward the nearest places to find Ranger IPA.
"Our brands are obviously among our strongest assets, so we support them with significant marketing resources" while hewing to the brewer's hip, offbeat identity, says Simpson. Cases in point include brewery tours featuring storytelling (in addition to tastings) and the hotly contested "Skinny Dip for a Cause" contest (environmental groups vying for New Belgium online fans' votes to win a $10,000 brewer-sponsored grant).
New Belgium, which has annual sales exceeding $100 million, sold 573,000 barrels of beer across its brands last year, the company reports.