BOSTON – When it comes to alcohol marketing, trends come and go. But unlike other forms of retail marketing, alcohol end-products never really seem to die. They just get reborn under new packaging. Fireball? It’s really no different than the half pints of Dr McGillicuddy some of us remember sneaking under railroad passes to guzzle when we were… of legal age, naturally. Those canned vodka martinis you remember your grandfather hoisting shamelessly? They’re now those strange spherical canisters called BuzzBallz some of you might remember from such front counter liquor store purchases known as bad mistakes. And I can guarantee you know at least one person still breathing who swears by FourLoko. Non-ironically.
But hard seltzers aren’t a trend. They’re a bona fide phenomenon. And while manufacturers and consumers swear it’s not Zima (even though it’s really just Zima), there’s enough demand to have seen sales jump 164.3 percent in the month of July alone. Yuk it up all you want about Anheuser Busch’s attempt to rebrand their venerable Natty Light under the guise of a clear, refreshing seltzer “beverage,” but they clearly know marketing better than you.
But it may be Boston Beer Company who helped pave the way for the rebranding of clear malt beverages with the introduction of their Truly line of hard seltzers in 2016. No, they weren’t the first; that credit goes to Connecticut’s Spiked Seltzer four years earlier. (I lied. It was Zima.) But when Boston Beer speaks, the public tends to listen. So much so that seltzer sales drove the company’s stock up a reported 61 percent last week.
Earlier this week, the local brewery giant launched their first national ad campaign for Truly, featuring comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key. The 15-second spots are intended to help corner their share of the market from their chief competitor, Chicago’s White Claw seltzer. Together, both brands constitute 85 percent of all hard seltzer sales in the U.S.
"We see a huge opportunity to grow Truly because, believe it or not, Truly is bigger than major beer brands like Stella Artois and Blue Moon, yet four percent of households have purchased hard seltzer," says Lesya Lysyj, Boston Beer’s Chief Marketing Officer in a press release. "Through this campaign, we are championing the idea of embracing Truly as a refreshing new choice compared to their old repertoire. Keegan-Michael Key brings levity and personality to the brand in a way that we think drinkers will connect with and will help us stand out in a meaningful way."
The spots feature Key, who helped develop, write and conceive the ads, attempting to find alternate uses for traditional alcohol, including watering a plant with a light beer, using a wine bottle as a candle holder, cleaning tires with vodka and substituting whiskey as lighter fluid. So it’s clearly the ground-breaking work of an auteur which should have you thinking twice about hard seltzer.
“A big reason why we partnered with Keegan is for his creativity and personality, so we wanted to bring as much of that out as possible,” Lysyj said. “We’ve just scratched the surface when it comes to introducing drinkers to Hard Seltzer and we believe his entertaining way of telling a story will help Truly stand out in a meaningful way for both current and future hard seltzer drinkers.”
“We’ve invested significantly in media, and you’ll see the campaign run across ESPN, Bravo, E!, NFL Network, TBS, Hulu, MTV and Comedy Central,” Lysyj told Brewbound earlier this week. “Beginning in September, ‘Drink What you Truly Want’ spots will be in every Monday Night Football game on ESPN in addition to SportsCenter for the full season. You’ll also see Keegan-Michael Key in ad content across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.”
OK, Lesya. Just ensure he doesn’t wear an incredibly stupid hat. It’s kind of the kiss of death.