Sam Adams Wants to Show You Just How Small It Really Is

Brewer's New Ads Aim to Separate It From Big Brands by Pointing Out Lack of Market Share

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CHICAGO ( -- Samuel Adams Boston Lager marketer Boston Beer Co. is pushing an unusual selling point in new ads: Its own insignificance.

In a spot titled "Growing Up Small" from the brewery's longtime agency, Octopus, it sets out to dispel the notion that it accounts for a significant portion of U.S. beer sales, asking drinkers in a series of documentary-style interviews how big they think Sam Adams' share is.

Twenty-five percent, guesses one. Huge, says another. At that point, the brand's actual market share flashes across the screen: 0.9%.

It's not every day companies spend their media budgets heralding their general puniness, but it's not a good time to be a major player or seen as one in the beer industry. Virtually every premium brand with the scale to be perceived as mainstream -- Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Corona Extra and Heineken Lager -- saw sales declines last year, and Samuel Adams -- while boasting a fraction of those brands' total sales -- is nearly as ubiquitous.

A Boston Beer spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a company policy of not discussing advertising (because, after all, what could be a bigger secret than the messages you spend millions of dollars to broadcast to millions of people?). And in Boston Beer's case, it spent nearly $30 million on measured media last year, according to Kantar Media.

But the conundrum is apparent enough. In the same way brands such as Heineken and Corona have struggled to avoid the "my father's import" label amid a sea of new import offerings such as Stella Artois, Modelo Especial and Dos Equis, Sam Adams finds itself struggling to retain its relevance in a world where the number of craft-beer options has increased exponentially.

Plus, it's hard to be the little guy when your shares are traded publicly on the New York Stock Exchange (albeit with a market cap of less than $740 million, which we admit is a tad smaller than Anheuser-Busch InBev's $81 billion.) "They no longer have that boutique aura," said veteran alcohol marketer Arthur Shapiro. "They want it back."

Regardless, sales of Samuel Adams have held up reasonably well to this point. Boston Beer recovered from a weak first half to eke out a 1% increase in shipments during 2009, thanks to a second-half surge that has apparently continued into 2010. Through February, the brewer said its shipments were up 9% vs. the year-earlier period.

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