Hawaiian-born craft brew Kona is about to make the biggest mainland marketing play in its 25-year history. The beer will run its first national TV ads beginning Thursday during March Madness.
The spots, by agency Duncan Channon of San Francisco, continue the "Dear Mainland" campaign that first began airing in select markets such as San Diego and Orlando in 2014. Ads feature two Hawaiian locals dubbed the "Bruddahs" who poke fun at the stressful lives of mainlanders while plugging a low-key island lifestyle. Three new national ads include one called the "To Don't List" in which the two men remind viewers: "Don't forget to step outside every now and then." In another spot, they talk about "Kona mode," which is like putting your phone on airplane mode, but for a lot longer period of time.
Kona—which has been distributed nationally for a while—is taking its marketing national in a move to become more of a "lifestyle brand," says Cindy Wang, senior brand director at Kona Brewing Company. She says that contrasts with the approach of a lot of craft beers, which tend to deploy grassroots local marketing that often focuses on beer styles and varieties.
"A lot of craft beer is really regional in nature," she says. But "Kona, because of its ties to Hawaii, has the ability to really transcend geographies. The mindset of Hawaii that comes to life through our company is something that is relevant the world over."
Kona is owned by the Portland-based Craft Brew Alliance, whose other brands include Redhook and Widmer Brothers. Anheuser-Busch InBev owns 32 percent of the company's stock. The Craft Brew Alliance operates independently, but the beer is distributed by AB InBev-affiliated wholesalers. Kona was first brewed in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. It is still made there, but output also comes from breweries in Oregon, New Hampshire and Colorado.
Kona sales grew 8 percent by volume last year, the brand says. That marked the first time in several years Kona failed to reach double-digit percentage growth. "It's not where we want to be," Wang says. But Kona still outpaced the larger craft beer beer industry, which was up 2.5 percent in dollar sales in 2018, according to figures from market research company IRI cited by Brewbound.