Live the brand

PR and marketing hacks spout those three words all the time. Live the brand. Makes good sense, when you think about it. Living the essence of how you want consumers to feel about your product is pretty important. Everyone knows that Apple espouses great design. Their brand is simplicity, elegance and desirability. Most every Apple user has at least some of these reasons for choosing to use those products.

The same holds true for beer. This week, ABInBev, the company that owns Labatts and brews one of Halifax’s original beers, Alexander Keith’s, decided to take up to 47 jobs, and move that production from Halifax to what used to be ‘export’ markets of Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland. I think it’s great that a ‘local’ product is catching on elsewhere (well, as local as the largest beer company in the world can be, anyway). I get the business rationale behind the decision. Beer is heavy and expensive to transport, so why not brew it near the consumers who want the product? Plus, according to Labatt spokespeople, production of Keith’s intended for our market would continue to be brewed here. Win-win, right? Not really.

I stirred up some controversy when I posted to Twitter that people should tell Keith’s just how pissed they were by posting on their Facebook wall. The Chronicle Herald even picked it up, retweeted the post and scads of people got angry with Keith’s. I don’t take credit for the massive waves of people who went there and told the company just how they felt and that they planned to boycott the brand–Labatts can take all the credit for that.

I don’t drink Keith’s, unless I’m handed one at a party, or there are absolutely no other options. To me, it’s just not a very good beer and tastes like every other mass-market brew. If I’m the one buying, I always buy local microbrews from Propeller, Garrison, Granite Brewery and Pump House in Moncton. If I’m feeling like having something ‘imported’, I’ll buy micros from Mill Street in Toronto, or McAuslan from Quebec. Every single one of these companies is small, local and dedicated to ultra high-quality product. It doesn’t cost much more, and the taste choices are infinitely more varied and interesting than anything brewed by the giant conglomerates.

But that’s not even really why I got a little worked up about Keith’s moving production to the centres where the market has expanded. Ever since I can remember, Keith’s has been marketed as a Halifax brew. Those who like it, like it a lot, I guess. They’ve used the (tired) imagery of 18th century pubs with busty lasses serving cold mugs of Keith’s to tired and horny sailors. This is the image they’ve used to promote the product, even when the recipe and ownership have long since changed to some generic offshore figurehead. They’ve touted their Nova Scotia roots as one of the major reasons to consume the product. Living the Keith’s brand means to Hold True (their current tagline) to their history of being a Halifax port city pub beer. Holding True would mean making the hard choice to continue to keep people employed here even while expanding to new markets. This decision is so off-brand for the marque and that’s why people are upset. It’s what happens when accountants and lawyers make strategic decisions, rather than letting people with actual vision run a brand.

I highly doubt most people will actually boycott the brand despite the brouhaha over this move. Humans are herd creatures and there are enough people who don’t care where the beer is brewed, so they’ll just lapse into old habits when they see their friends continuing to drink Keith’s.

Wouldn’t it be great though, if most of the people who claimed to be mad about this actually took the steps to buy beer based on the principles that pissed them off in the first place? What if all of those hundreds of consumers started buying actual local, real beer instead of the slop produced by the big breweries? Lots of people on the Facebook page claimed to be switching to Budweiser or something similar. Since Bud is also brewed by the same company, how is this making a statement at all?

If you really care about the products you consume, you should be making every effort to understand the companies behind the brands you enjoy.

Drink local, my friends.

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