The Value of High Concept Marketing

For the better part of the past decade, breweries have been trying to figure out how to use video in their marketing efforts. It’s a medium that seems well-suited to social media, and the ready availability of high-quality video makes it seem especially alluring (the video my iPhone shoots is far better than the high-end prosumer digital can I bought when the tech was in its youth). Yet the seeming obviousness of these two facts has not always (or often) translated into effective marketing.

One notable exception is 10 Barrel’s 26-minute documentary called Pray for Snow, which launched last month. Although there are a few glamorized slo-mo shots inside the brewery and a few product and brand placements scattered throughout, it’s almost entirely footage of four 10B employees rocketing down pristine mountains of snow on skis and snowboards. In fact, the snow sports press seems to have followed the project far more closely than the beer press.

It’s an incredibly well-done video, professionally shot and edited, with gorgeous tracking shots, amazing visuals, and the ubiquitous rocking soundtrack. (That 10 Barrel was purchased by AB InBev a few years back means the marketing budget for the project was ... healthy.) None of those things, however, guaranteed that more than a relative handful of people would ever see it. Eight years ago, Deschutes tried a high-concept video that to date has garnered just a tenth the views 10 Barrel’s has racked up in a month. (Many brewery-produced videos top out with just a few hundred views.) Unlike Deschutes’ video, a lot of people are watching Pray for Snow.

I was curious to learn why this was, so I reached out to  Grady Skelton, Senior Creative Brand Manager and one of the film’s producers, as well as some smart folks who have experience with these things. There are some important lessons in this experiment, and companies considering something like this should pay close attention.


Integration Into Existing Marketing

Marketing is communication, and communication involves two parties. One of the most important things any brewery should know when they’re creating a message is who the audience is. Put another way, is the message relevant to the audience? In the case of Pray for Snow, not only was it relevant, but it fed an existing hunger among the brand’s most avid fans. This is an important point. Rather than using the video to try to create demand where none existed—typical for video projects—Pray for Snow was integrated into activities the brewery already conducts and helped create a signature focal point. Skelton explains how the movie came together as a supportive component rather than a standalone project they would have had to promote:

“The idea to make a ski and snowboard film was birthed from our need to revamp our current Pray For Snow parties that we throw annually at all our pub locations. In the past we had a great live band accompanied by a Rail Jam for local skiers and snowboarders to compete on. After a few years with the rail jam setup, the whole thing was becoming more of a pain in our ass than an impactful means of marketing. Also, during that time the management at 10 Barrel was looking to support the local athletes we have coming out of Bend and based near our home markets (OR, ID, WA). Our Marketing Director, Andy Goggins, and I crafted the idea of a full film to show instead of the rail jam; purely based around our newly-signed athletes.”

“I think we had a really easy sell actually. The issue with most movies produced in the action sports realm is the final output. Where do you show it? For us, we already had the big parties and budget set aside to continue to make those parties amazing. In addition to the Pray For Snow parties we also used the video for regional tap takeovers and premieres. It all came together on paper, way before we even started shooting the project.”

Relationship to the Brand 

Skelton has already hinted how the video was really a way to embody everything they wanted to communicate through their branding. By replacing a similar live-action event, the movie became less an advertisement for 10 Barrel than an immersive experience in the emotional cues of its brand. Again, this flips the equation many breweries use, where a video or marketing promotion tries to introduce a new element of brand the customer hasn’t been prepared for. With Pray for Snow, 10 Barrel deepened the already-strong sense of brand. For those unfamiliar with 10 Barrel, it introduced them in the most favorable way to what that brand is. I can imagine snowboarders discovering this online and feeling, without ever having tasted 10 Barrel, a connection to its brand.

The hope was to take the equity we had in Pray For Snow as a brand and build on it while directly relating back to our brand tagline ‘Drink Beer Outside.’
— Grady Skelton, 10 Barrel Brewing

“All we needed was the new main attraction and with the bigger-named athletes we were able to sign; it made this whole thing worthwhile. [With the film, we empowered] our reps with a tool to use that was 100% on-brand and supported one of our seasonals “Pray For Snow.” Since it is our winter seasonal we have a cultish style following behind it from those who can’t wait to try the slightly altered recipe. We just need to build it up more and get the connection to our brand as a whole.”

Designer Ryan Wheaton, founder of Craft Brew Creative and the Branding Brews podcast, echoes this sentiment. “10 Barrel has that core branding that represents the lifestyle of Bend, OR. Their whole vibe resonates with avid snowboarders or skiers. So, they need to keep putting out content and branding that helps build and maintain that image. I [also] have to think about them keeping this image and brand moving outside of Oregon.”

Jordan Wilson, the auteur who makes Old Town’s little masterpieces, also points out the potency of video, when it hits, to move hearts. “Videos have proven to be one of the best/most influential forms of content for us,” he told me. “Which makes sense; they are able to educate and create strong emotional ties with the consumer. People who are moved or connect with the story are much more likely to buy your product than those who feel nothing.” Ah, but how do you make sure the videos hit?

Getting It Seen

Getting a project completed and having it align with your brand and identity are important, but to paraphrase that Zen koan—if you put a video online and no one sees it, does it move sales? This is one of the biggest challenges in 2019. For a brief, shining moment in about 2008, it was possible to post a video on YouTube, send links out via social media, and create a viral hit. But there are now 60 million Facebook business pages, and hundreds of millions of posts on the main sites daily. It’s not enough to simply hope for virality—you have to have some mechanism to push it out to the eyeballs you want to reach.

Breweries have a built-in strength the average pin and toggle manufacture lacks, though—an engaged network of customers and partners. And when it came time to launch Pray for Snow, 10 Barrel took advantage of them. Skelton explains.

“From the digital roll out on our media partners sites to showing the full film at our events, pushing the film through the reps showings and finally releasing on our digital platforms, it all worked really well. It was rad to hear the positivity from our wholesalers as well.”

“Getting it out there was set from the beginning but we put out a minute-long teaser on the web and pushed it through our major publication relationships. They also teased it during their video premieres they were showing so it got a lot of hype before the World Premiere in Portland. After that, we stuck to the plan of making sure the whole film wasn’t online while physical premieres were happening. However, we did release an [special version] to hype the event and get people to head out to the pubs and see it. That worked well as we slowly leaked the whole  video.”


Measuring the Impact

The final piece I was curious about was measuring success. How does a brewery know when a project like this has “worked?” What metrics do they use and how do they square the ineffable qualities of “building brand equity” with the realities of actual marketing dollars? Ryan Wheaton pointed out that projects like this often don’t work like other promotions. “I imagine there were some short term benefits, but this was definitely a long game play,” he said. “Branding can be challenging and there is rarely a single instance that creates a brand, or resonates with the consumer.”

That’s no doubt true—it’s hard to measure emotion. But 10 Barrel’s Grady Skelton had more tangible numbers to offer. And, beyond the eyeballs, he points out that the brewery built up some valuable assets it can use going forward.

“If we go by the numbers, we had over 3,000 show up to each of the Pray For Snow parties and so far online we have blown through expectations for our online views. The full movie was added to our Youtube [in December] and is already at 100k views.  Add that into the single releases and all the regional showings and we have some solid numbers. Now as for content; since we paid for and produced the video ourselves, we have the rights to the video assets and photo assets—this is huge when you are looking to promote future projects or just need an add photo centered around a skier in snow or a beer in the mountains.  We really did well killing two birds with one stone.”

10 Barrel has a number of unique strengths. It’s part of a very large company that has connections throughout beer industry and access to many retail channels. It owns a number of pubs throughout the west. It has a ton of money to hire talent to produce a high-quality film. Its myriad advertising channels creates opportunities to partner with specific, targeted media. No doubt these are a big part of the film’s success. But they’re not adequate on their own—other breweries with resources have had far less success.

More important was the way the company used video to integrate into existing marketing, and highlighted activities that were at the heart of the brand. Given that video is so inexpensive now, and editing and distribution are available to even the smallest companies, these are important lessons. Later this week, I have a guest post from Jordan Wilson, who was quoted in this article. He’ll describe how Old Town Brewing, working with a tiny budget, manages to produce impressive videos—and get results.