As soon as the press release for The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s new ad campaign graced my inbox, I messaged the brewery’s sales director (and, full disclosure, good friend) Ryan Self.
I wanted to know if there had been any sort of reaction to the billboards and online ads, which you can see below. Because, to me, they came off as arrogant, and that surprised me coming from The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery.
I wasn’t the only person who reached out to Ryan. Charlotte Agenda writer (and, full disclosure, another good friend) Jonathan Wells spoke with him last week. The resulting piece explains that the new ads are part of an “awareness campaign” targeting bad beer. There’s some good information in the article about bad beer and how being a local, craft brewery does not make you exempt from producing it, and that bad beer can be detrimental to the craft beer industry. I wholeheartedly agree with those points, and urge you to read the article regardless of your thoughts on the campaign.
The only problem is that some of those nuanced points aren’t evident in the new ads. And how could they be? Ryan Self won’t be posted up near the billboards, explaining the brewery’s motivations (which is a shame, because you won’t find many people as knowledgeable or passionate about craft beer). When you drive past a billboard, you’ve got just a few seconds to take the message in before forming your own opinion. Is it referring to big breweries like Bud, Miller or Coors? National craft brands? The craft brewery down the street?
With a campaign like this, there is no discussion nor dialogue to be had with the brewery. Most will drive past the billboards or see the ads and take them at face value. What you see is what you get. It might be different were they posted on Facebook or Twitter where someone might more easily respond to them, but as of now they aren’t.
Just because a beer is made right down the street does not mean it is inherently good, something we all too often ignore. We all play “craft beer roulette” every time we purchase a beer, especially if it’s from a brewery or beer style that’s new to us.
But you know something? We like that. Craft beer drinkers are an adventurous bunch. The entire industry was built from the desire for something different. Sometimes we find little revelations in each sip, other times they’re not to our taste. I think most of us realize, however, that a bad beer isn’t reflective of an entire brewery’s portfolio, and certainly not of the 4,000+ breweries and counting in this country. Given that ever-increasing number, there are undoubtedly more breweries producing bad beer than ever before. And there are more breweries producing fantastic beer than ever before as well.
The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is one of them. In the brewery’s seven-year history, they have grown from being the only local craft brewery in town to now boasting one of the most impressive breweries in the state — both in terms of their portfolio of beers as well as their taproom and biergarten. And they’ve done it all by focusing on their beer, not bad beer/other beer/craft beer.
I messaged Ryan so quickly because, to me, the ads came across as arrogant — and that’s not a word I’d associate with the brewery. The new ads are bold, but I don’t genuinely believe any of the brewery’s employees are disparaging other craft breweries. I’ve seen too much goodwill from people like founder John Marrino, who has in the past emphasized his commitment to a “virtuous cycle” that sees profits from the brewery deposited back into the local economy. I’ve seen him lend a hand to local breweries when they needed it, and I’ve seen the brewery host too many fundraising events to mention.
But if you were driving down South Boulevard and spotted one of these billboards, you might not know any of that. Maybe you would admire the boldness of the ad and, having been burned a time or two by “bad beer,” think about settling down with that one, true brand. Or maybe you would assume the brewery was slighting other beers you’ve come to love. And that’s why the brewery’s new ad campaign could be seen as a bit of a gamble.
Or is it roulette?
Photos/Images: The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery