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Hard cider is one of the hottest sectors in the alcohol business, but MillerCoors thinks the category is still missing some testosterone. That is why the brewer is punctuating the launch campaign for its new Smith & Forge Hard Cider brand with arm wrestling, facial hair, blacksmiths and a tough-guy character from AMC's "Breaking Bad."
The effort, which is led creatively by WPP's Cavalry, will be backed with a significant media investment as the brewer looks to gain ground in cider. While still much smaller than beer, cider sales grew nearly 100% in the 52 weeks ending Jan. 26 to $220.7 million, according to IRI, which excludes bars and restaurants. But MillerCoors controls only a fraction of the cider market with its upscale Crispin brand, which it acquired in 2012 and has share of 3.5%, according to IRI.
Smith & Forge is going after the common man. MillerCoors sees opportunity in the fact that cider cider purchases skew far less male than beer, according to Nielsen data cited by the brewer.
"Guys continue to look for variety and different options, including cider," said Rita Patel, director of new product development at MillerCoors. But existing brands have steered a "little bit too cute," or their taste profiles are too sweet for men, she added.
Smith & Forge, which hits stores in March, will use advertising that harkens back to the pre-Prohibition cider boom when "guys were out drinking cider after a hard day's work," Ms. Patel said. The brand name is a reference to the era's blacksmiths who "forged" relationships over a tinker of hard cider.
On social media, Smith & Forge is encouraging the use of the hashtag "#19thCenturyProblems."
When traffic is backed up due to a 3-ox pile up. #19thCenturyProblems— Smith & Forge (@SmithAndForge) February 26, 2014
TV spots, which begin on March 31, feature a mutton-chopped character named Cornelius who witnesses male feats like boulder-splitting and blacksmithing, while describing Smith & Forge as "strong, sturdy, but not too sweet." At 6% alcohol-by-volume, Smith & Forge is slightly above the average cider alcohol content. Packaging for the cider, which comes in 16-ounce cans, highlights the alcohol content in orange and includes the tagline: "Made Strong."
A launch event on March 5 in Brooklyn will challenge guys to take on an arm-wrestling machine. For PR, the brand has tapped actor Jonathan Banks who played Mike Ehrmantraut on "Breaking Bad." He will serve as a "media spokesman," giving interviews about the brand to men-targeted publications.
The brand's PR shop is Olson.
Both MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev missed out on the beginning of the modern-era cider boom as sales began surging a few years ago. The brewing giants are now playing catch-up to Boston Beer Co.'s Angry Orchard brand, which has been on a roll and now controls 52% of category sales, according to IRI.
A-B InBev launched Michelob Ultra Light Cider in 2012, following it earlier this year with the national rollout of Stella Artois Cidre (pronounced CEE-dra). The brewer on April 7 will launch a new cider brand called Johnny Appleseed. In a memo to distributors last year, A-B InBev said the cider would be backed with "significant marketing support," describing it as having a "unique balance of sweetness and intensity." A spokeswoman recently declined to give specifics on marketing.
MillerCoors and A-B InBev, which together control roughly 74% beer market share in the U.S. according to Beer Marketer's Insights, are playing an unfamiliar challenger role in cider. Notably, Ms. Patel was not bashful about taking on Angry Orchard by name when explaining Smith & Forge's male positioning.
She said that "while Angry Orchard in and of itself might feel masculine," the brand's "design techniques," such as its "whimsical tree" and color scheme, "lean a little bit away from the masculine side."
A Boston Beer spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.