Whatever else you can say, Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, can rightfully claim it makes beautiful labels. How could it not? It names some of its beers for the gorgeous Oregon natural environment where it’s brewed.
But better than labels, Deschutes figured, would be virtual reality/360 degree videos. Two of them, for Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale are now on Deschutes Brewery’s YouTube channel. A third stereoscopic 360 degree video, “Hop Trip: A Fresh Hop Pale Ale” was debuted over the weekend, when the beer was. It features the hop harvest and trip to gather fresh hops.
These 360 degree commercial videos are a new thing for small beer companies. The only other American one I could find and Jason Randles, the digital marketing manager, could tell me about, is a factory tour for Goose Island, a Chicago-based brewer that probably would prefer most of its customers didn’t know it’s now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. Craft beers kind of exist to tap into the beer drinkers who are rushing to get away from the Budweisers of the world.
That isn’t Deschutes.
It’s the eighth largest craft brewery in the nation according to the Brewers Association, which represents small and independent brewers. Randles notes, “the gap between eighth and even third [Sierra Nevada] or fourth [New Belgium] is huge. We sold around 365,000 barrels last year whereas Sierra Nevada sold over 1 million and New Belgium wasn’t too far behind that.” (The largest small, indie brewer, Yuengling of Pottstown, Pa., turns out at least 2.8 million.)
Deschutes uses its VR to show at its brewpubs --that would be a sight to see, given the dizzying effect of VR and beer. (Maybe they offset each other?)
For Deschutes, which has been around since 1988, it’s just good marketing because it flat out can’t afford ordinary TV commercials. “Plus,” Randles says, “ it just isn’t an authentic way to reach craft beer consumers.”
Social media and the Internet is. Research confirms what you might suspect. Craft beer drinkers are a millennial bunch. They place great importance on values like locally-made products, and 62% say they’re more likely to become a loyal customer of brands that are on social media, according to a Brewers Association report. They value companies that support local communities and they think TV ads are phony. In short, they have a lot of attitudes big beer companies can’t have just because they’re big beer companies.
“The most successful distributors in the years ahead will be the ones who focus their efforts on partnering with craft brewers who are high quality, strong in their home markets, innovative and unique, engaging socially/digitally with consumers on daily basis and, perhaps most importantly, authentic,” the report says.
All of that meshes well with a 360-degree videos showing off the pretty places in Bend where that beer in your hand comes from. The videos even use narration from employees, a nice homey touch. Though Deschutes is now available in 28 states, the idea of “local” still holds.
Impossible Engine, the creative agency that brought Deschutes the idea, is based in Austin, Texas but with an office in Bend. This is their first foray into VR. Jeannette Heindel, the account director and executive producer, says the Deschutes project was “pretty comparable to a ‘regular’ video as far as our production costs.”
Viewership probably is probably a lot less, at this point. Though you can watch the Deschutes videos on YouTube and use your finger to go around the screen, it’s optimally viewed through a headset and those have not saturated the market--yet. At the high end, the Tractica marketing firm says, 20 million VR units, including accessories and the like, could ship this year. But from what I gather, that is an extremely high end. A lower-end estimate is nine million. Cost is still a big deal, though Google’s new $79 Daydream might pick up the big gap market between Google Cardboard and higher end Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets.
But as a pretty perfect combination of digital savvy, local loyalty and environmentally friendly video, Deschutes could get a lot of mileage out its videos.
“Storytelling is important with craft beer and consumers want to know as much as they can about the beer they’re drinking and the brewery behind it,” Randles told me in an email conversation. “We love how interactive VR is versus traditional video. You don’t just sit there and watch it, but you move around or swipe with your finder to explore and discover what all there is to see. We live in a pretty spectacular place so it’s fun to transport the viewers to our ‘backyard’ “ and explain why we named our two flagship beers after these landmarks.”