Founded in Pennsylvania in 1829, D.G. Yuengling & Sons is nothing short of a 183-year old overnight success story, riding a recent growth spurt that has made it the envy of the beer world.
Yet when Marketing Director Lou Romano set out to create the company's next ad campaign, he faced a thorny problem: How do you talk to consumers in Pennsylvania -- where Yuengling is an institution -- while also reaching out to newer markets such as Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia, where some folks probably don't even know how to pronounce the brand's name? "We have a very different story to tell depending on the markets," Mr. Romano said. "That's always the tricky part."
So he looked to Michigan, of all places, finding inspiration in Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit." The car campaign oozes the kind of local pride, toughness and grit that Yuengling is emulating as it seeks to renew old loyalties while winning new fans with its biggest ad campaign ever.
TV spots, which are being produced now, make the beer the star while playing up the brand's "no-bull" approach, according to Yuengling. "It's not limited edition. Not cask-conditioned," a voice-over states over a classic slow-pour in one ad. "It is however, a rare breed ... from an American-owned, family-operated brewery. Since 1829, we've kept is so simple, we're still in fashion."
After a hugely successful Ohio launch last year, Yuengling is now sold in 14 states. Shipments grew by 16.9% last year, placing it eighth in overall U.S. brewer market share, at 1.2%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. And while it's still dwarfed by bigger brewers, Yuengling is now the largest U.S.-owned brewer that makes all its beer in the states, as Ad Age reported in January, citing stats from Beer Marketer's. (Other competitors are either foreign-owned, such as Anheuser Busch InBev and MillerCoors; importers; or contract brews, such as Pabst Brewing Co.) Yuengling is still rolling this year: In the 52 weeks ending Aug. 12, sales of the flagship Yuengling Lager brand jumped 40.6% to $223 million, making it the 19th-largest U.S. beer brand, despite a footprint that is a fraction of most other brands in the top 20, according to SymphonyIRI (which excludes Walmart data).
With that growth comes a bigger ad budget. Yuengling is planning to boost spending by about 20% in 2013, Mr. Romano said. The brewer spent $3.6 million in measured media last year, according to Kantar Media. Five TV ads debuting next year will plug Lager, the much-smaller Yuengling Light and Black & Tan, which will get its first TV ad push. The campaign is by agency-of -record Pavone, of Harrisburg, Pa., located about 60 miles from Yuengling's headquarters in Pottsville, Pa.
While old, Yuengling is ahead of its time. The version of the lager now flying off shelves was reintroduced in 1987 from an old recipe that includes caramel malt and cluster and cascade hops, giving the beer a darker color than mainstream lagers such as Budweiser. Back then, fifth-generation owner Dick Yuengling "saw the consumer's taste profile changing to beers with more flavor and more color," Mr. Romano said.
And today those attributes are giving the brand some cachet with craft-beer drinkers, even as it mostly competes with more mainstream lagers and light beers such as Miller and Bud. Yuengling has a "foot in both worlds," said Mark Richwine, Pavone's executive creative director, who like most Pennsylvanians has been drinking it for many years. "It has the broad appeal of a very drinkable beer. At the same time it's distinctive enough that it captures the interest and the attention of craft-beer aficionados." Even as it gains new national popularity, Yuengling is paying attention to its Pennsylvania roots. Today, for National Drink Beer Day, the brewer is giving away free beers at a city-wide toast in Philadelphia to celebrate its new status as the largest American-owned brewery.
So just where is Yuengling headed next? Mr. Romano did not divulge any secrets. But based on the brewer's pattern, when it expands it will likely move to states that neighbor its existing footprint, which mostly runs through the East and Southeast. "Dick Yuengling's goal is not to rush across the United States," Mr. Romano said. "He's very slow and deliberate. ... Let's see how things settle in in Ohio before we start talking about new states, like Kentucky or Louisiana," he said. He added -- in a hint? -- "we're not in Mississippi."
Or even Detroit.