In the highly commoditized beer business, differentiating the brand is often the core marketing challenge.
Not so for New Belgium Brewing, which has attracted a substantial and fast-growing fan base with its distinctive and quirkily named craft beers (Fat Tire Amber Ale, Ranger India Pale Ale, Blue Paddle, Mothership Wit, etc.) and an un-corporate culture expressed in its official "ideals" of "sustainability, balance and folly."
For the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery, the challenges lie more in managing to keep surprising fans and potential converts with new marketing/advertising twists, on budgets that still fall somewhat shy of InBev levels.
But hey, in the immortal words of Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman, "What, me worry?" In fact, in a perhaps-inevitable development, this year, New Belgium and agency Cultivator Advertising & Design have pulled inspiration right out of the pages of Mad. The idea: Adopt Mad's iconic, irreverent fold-in spread feature format for a new campaign for flagship brew Fat Tire (named to commemorate the Belgian bike trip that led Jeff Lebesch to co-found New Belgium in 1991).
The spread is unusual for its required mid-book placement -- Fat tire usually runs ads on magazine back covers -- as well as its ambitious (costly) physical format.
The creative concept: Folded closed, the viewer sees a Fat Tire bottle (with its signature image of a fat tire bike on the label), with copy labeling the ale "New Belgium's Joy Ride." Folded open, the spread shows caricatures of New Belgium brewer Peter Boukaert (claiming that he's "always hated Fat Tire" because "it's the hardest beer for us to make") and company co-founder/CEO Kim Jordan (countering that she's "always loved Fat Tire" for its balance and bicycle-culture origins/ethos). The retro design look is consistent with New Belgium campaigns as a whole, as well as past Fat Tire creative.
The print component is being run in Outside, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, Wired, Dwell and 40-plus additional alternative, outdoor and brew-related niche publications. In addition, the format has been adapted to recreate the folding process/effect in 2-D for electronic versions running online and in Wired magazine's iPad version.
The creative isn't the only novel element. On a bigger-picture level, New Belgium's marketing strategy this year calls for dedicating more than half of its 2011 advertising budget to Fat Tire -- the largest percentage spent on the brand in the past five years, according to the company, which produces more than 30 craft beers all told.
That strategy reflects both Fat Tire's status as the flagship of a company that's this year celebrating two decades in business and a planned market expansion for the brand, says Matt Neren, principal in the Cultivator agency and co-account director for New Belgium. "This was the perfect time to use Fat Tire as a focal point to celebrate 20 years of colorful history," he notes. (No specifics yet available on the FT market expansion. New Belgium's current overall distribution territory spans nearly all states west of the Mississippi and seven Midwestern and Southern states.)
Fat Tire continues to be New Belgium's largest-selling brand, although its Ranger IPA, launched a year ago, is now its second best-seller and currently its fastest-growing. The launch of Ranger (named after the brewer's "Beer Rangers," a/k/a sales force) was of course a major marketing focus last year.
According to New Belgium, it sold more than 661,000 barrels across its brands last year, a 13% increase over 2009.