CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Blue Moon beer is going national. Pass it on.
Accepted wisdom among brewers has been that national rollout equals national ad campaign, but Molson Coors Brewing Co. believes it can take its Belgian-style wheat beer across the country via the power of word-of-mouth. The company plans to eschew advertising entirely for the hot-selling craft brew popular in regional markets, instead aiming to get consumers to "discover" it on their own or through a friend's recommendation. And it would prefer not to point out to consumers the niche brew is made by a national giant.
"Television and radio ads are really antithetical to what the Blue Moon brand is about," said a Coors spokeswoman, noting the rollout will instead focus on educating distributors. "Blue Moon's success has very much been driven by consumer discovery."
It's hard to argue with that strategy, given 10-year-old Blue Moon's three-straight years of double-digit growth without advertising support. But craft brewers -- who saw sales jump 9% last year as overall beer continued to lose ground to wine and spirits, according to industry journal Beer Marketer's Insights -- are increasingly using media to grow sales.
Craft category leader Boston Beer Co. grew shipments 7.3% last year as it aired its "Take Pride in Your Beer" campaign, which a spokeswoman said will get incrementally more spending this year. And New Belgium Brewing Co.'s Fat Tire grew 11.8% with a series of quirky TV spots in its western U.S. markets.
Beverage-industry experts caution that slick ad campaigns could undermine the cachet that drew drinkers to craft beers in the first place. "Being on TV can hurt some of these brands more than it helps them," said Darrell Jursa, president of consulting firm Liquid Intelligence, whose clients include Pabst.
There's just one thing ...
And that poses a conundrum for large brewers such as Coors and Anheuser-Busch, which just launched its own Belgian-style wheat beer, Spring Heat Spiced Wheat. Upscale craft beers are their best entree into consumer preferences for obtainable luxury items, which have driven prodigious growth for boutique spirits brands such as Grey Goose vodka.
But, unlike upscale spirits, the craft brands depend on independent images at odds with the sort of slick marketing that could grow them enough to make a material difference in beer's push for renewed popularity and market share.
"There's a further complication with Blue Moon," says Benj Steinman, editor and publisher of Insights. "I don't think they're really eager to let people know it's [brewed by] Coors."