As previously commented upon in a ‘Quick Spot’ blog post from last year, Newcastle Brown Ale seems to have its image management perfectly on-target in the US. Since making concerted efforts during the 1980s and 1990s to export to the American market, the beer has clearly ‘broken’ the US in ways that other British brands and personalities frequently fail to do. As they look to broaden their reach in the country there is one tentpole advertising event on the horizon to which all US brands aspire – the coveted SuperBowl commercial spot. Next weekend will see this huge sporting event televised worldwide, and as other companies clamour to spend upwards of $4million for a 30 second placement, Newcastle Brown Ale is taking a slightly different tack.
In recent years, its strategy has been to adopt a somewhat brash, sarcastic tone in its US marketing. Since 2012, the Heineken-owned ale brand has built its promotional output around the ‘No Bollocks’ slogan, publicising itself irreverently as the honest, tell-it-like-it-is beer. This has served as a launchpad for aping, and passively criticising, the marketing ploys of its competitors. Last year, Miller Lite called on its social media followers to send in photos of themselves drinking the brew which would then be used in TV ads; Newcastle countered with an online campaign asking consumers to send their naff, boring pictures in to be poorly transformed into adverts for Brown Ale (view some of their tongue-in-cheek adverts here). When Stella Artois launched a billboard campaign featuring a branded beer glass and the slogan “It’s a Chalice, not a Glass”, Newcastle bought up advertising space nearby for posters running the tagline “Who uses the word ‘Chalice?’.
This cheeky promotional identity is most strongly evidenced during the marketing carnival surrounding the SuperBowl. Last year, Newcastle launched its ‘If We Made It’ campaign in the run-up to the sporting event. The ambitious marketing push revolved around the idea of what a Brown Ale commercial would look like if they had the money to make it. Despite being a purely online campaign, it was a huge success becoming a viral hit and winning several advertising awards. This year, they have devised an equally ambitious and irreverent campaign called ‘Band of Brands’ with the idea of trying to crowdsource funds from other companies – lots of brands clubbing together so they can afford to pay for a SuperBowl ad spot. The central advert – featuring US comedian Aubrey Plaza – has already garnered a great deal of attention. In keeping with its signature style, the video pokes fun at the usual stylings of a SuperBowl advert – cowboys, Americana, dogs and farming. All of Newcastle’s recent campaigns have been devised by Droga5, whose Chief Creative Officer, Ted Royer, said: “We are blessed there is a neverending amount of fodder in the marketing world for us to make fun of.”
Both campaigns play on the fact that Brown Ale doesn’t have the money for a national TV spot. However, the brand is actually excluded from airing national TV adverts during the Superbowl as the beer giant Anheuser-Busch annually pays for exclusivity. Instead, Newcastle will air its final commercial through local affiliate channels. Despite being the underdog (a role that the brand alludes to in all its promotional work) Brown Ale’s intelligent and creative ‘ambush marketing’ continues to put the pressure on the big US beer makers who are losing market share to craft ales and imported beers. And Newcastle are spending only a small fraction of the marketing budgets of their larger rivals to do it. However their crowdsourced advert fares on SuperBowl Sunday, Newcastle’s rising profile in the US is testament not just to the product itself, but also to a well-defined brand voice, astute knowledge of its consumer base and the high quality of its canny marketing.