Dan Fox
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‘Distinctiveness of place’: why Yuengling’s approach works

A beer brand looking to show off its authenticity always looks to its roots, but it’s a strategy not without potential pitfalls.

At almost the same time, Leinenkugel’s and Yuengling just released new ads based on “distinctiveness of place.” This strategy has a long history of success for beer brands. As we put it a couple of years ago: “Whether it was God’s Country or the Land of Sky Blue Waters, ‘We’re from a special place’ has worked strategic magic….” A brand’s hometown and its particulars can help underscore authenticity, a powerful asset for any brewer.

Emphasis on “can.”

When a beer brand chooses this course, how it treats its home is crucial. Authenticity demands an honest, respectful embrace. Yuengling demonstrates the point perfectly. The detailed facts, including the age of the brewery and the chilly caves beneath it, cannot be matched by any other brand. The tone is appropriately reverential. Distinctiveness achieved.

Leinenkugel’s, on the other hand, offers no facts beyond “German-style beer crafted with the spirit of Wisconsin.” Authenticity? What beer isn’t “German-style?” And “the spirit of Wisconsin” is a transparent legalistic hedge because they no longer brew all their beer there. The ad seems mostly preoccupied with depicting quirky millennials, anything but distinctive in beer ads these days.

Jake, John and Dick Leinenkugel

Jake, John and Dick Leinenkugel

The absence of respect for the authentic aspects of the Leinenkugel’s brand–namely the family members still involved in the company, the historic brewery, and the Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin northwoods hometown–may be what struck the MillerCoors distributor audience when this ad was unveiled. The lack of enthusiasm from the people who actually sell Leinenkugel’s to retailers caused the brewer to reverse course and kill the ad. (We managed to grab a copy before MillerCoors removed its own from YouTube.)

It’s also worth noting that this ad was the product of an ad agency new to Leinenkugel’s. It’s nearly impossible for such new people to fully grasp and appreciate their client’s uniqueness, much less convey it to others with the reverence it deserves.

Place + family + reverence = authenticity

Once upon a time, Coors stood alone among the major brewers in telling a distinctive story of place and family and brewing traditions. The ads were crafted by an agency with more than 20 years of Coors experience. The honesty and reverence of this advertising not only set Coors apart from its rivals. Research showed it also struck a very responsive chord among young adults, the millennials of their day.

A beer-advertising lesson or two here?

1. Don’t ever make fun of your home.

2. Don’t trust your brewery’s authenticity to newbie ad guys.

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