Anheuser-Busch InBev is about to make a significant new investment in its Shock Top brand. And the 8-year-old wheat beer is shooting for the moon. That would be Blue Moon, a larger, older and bigger-spending competitor owned by MillerCoors.
Blue Moon first began bringing unfiltered, Belgian-style wheat ales to the American masses in the 1990s and the brand has been been enjoying strong growth of late. But Shock Top, which launched in 2006, has quietly made gains in recent years with very little traditional marketing.
That will change next week when the brand launches its first TV ad campaign with a national buy that will get play during the NCAA's March Madness college basketball tournament, including on CBS. On Sunday, Shock Top will also pay for a digital ad takeover of ESPN.com. Overall, A-B Inbev plans to more than triple spending on the brand in 2014, said Eli Aguilera, the brewer's director-imports, crafts and specialty beers.
Shock Top got a little more than $1 million in measured media support in 2013, according to Kantar Media, compared with $18.9 million spent on Blue Moon.
"We believe in this brand to the point that we feel it's ready for that next level of investment," Mr. Aguilera said. Shock Top's brand awareness score is in the 30% range, compared with roughly 60% for Blue Moon, he said, adding "we feel that closing [that] gap will definitely help us."
Shock Top finished 2013 as the 28th-largest beer in the U.S. after growing shipments by 10.5%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Blue Moon grew by 6%, finishing 18th.
Shock Top's campaign features video that was originally shot for digital use as part of a contest that asked fans to share their dreams. The brand picked several dream submissions and paid to make them happen, shooting video of several. "The feedback we got from consumers was stellar so we decided this was a great way to launch our TV advertising," Mr. Aguilera said.
Four of the videos will run on TV. One ad (above) shows a man fulfilling his dream of having a beer with his friends at "America's highest bar," which turns out to be a temporary tap Shock Top set up at a mountain peak in Telluride, Colo.
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Another ad shows a woman bungee jumping in South Africa.
The campaign is by independent agency Group 360, St. Louis. Shock Top had been working with 72andSunny, but Mr. Aguilera said the brand is currently not using the MDC Partners-owned shop.
The new ads make use of Shock Top's ongoing "Live Life Unfiltered" tagline, which is play on the unfiltered brew, as well as a way to push an adventurous personality for the brand, Mr. Aguilera said. The new investment comes as the brand adds a fourth flavor variety to its full-time lineup: Honey Bourbon Cask Wheat.
Shock Top traces its roots to 2006, when it was a seasonal beer under Anheuser-Busch's Michelob family called Spring Heat Spiced Wheat. The beer broke off on its own the next year and was renamed "Shock Top," for "shock" of wheat. Packaging has long featured an orange slice character, or wedgehead, who appears in sunglasses and a mohawk.
Blue Moon had similarly humble beginnings in the early 1990s as a pet project of Coors Brewing Co. and brand founder and brewer Keith Villa. The brew, which pioneered the use of the orange slice as a garnish, hit critical mass in 2000 and has gotten significant ad support from MillerCoors in recent years, including national TV advertising that began in 2009.
This year the brand is planning to boost its marketing investment by 40% in the summer period as it continues its "Artfully Crafted" campaign by Omnicom Group's Integer Group."We still feel like we have a lot of room to grow, a lot of people to talk to [and] a lot of people to introduce to Blue Moon," said Brand director Kevin Reilly. "And I don't see that stopping anytime in the near future."
In other words, game on.