The Home Page Opportunity (5)

[July 23, 2011]

Beer. Despite the acknowledged subtleties of taste obtained by artisanal micro-breweries, it’s a fairly generic commodity, consumed for a fairly generic reason. Relatively cheap, it’s also a socially acceptable—even “manly”—beverage evoking memories of Youth, casual family gatherings and girth-enhancing binge behavior.

So while beer as a category needs no introduction, branding a beer requires an elaborate arsenal of meta-communication assault weapons, the kind of thing that goes way beyond package design and logo styling. Add to that the challenge of competing for attention online and the decision to create a Web presence for a beer is a dare worthy of Sir Edmund Percival Hillary himself.

Not surprisingly, as of July 2011, the results vary widely. Coors.com, for instance, barely makes it to base camp. “Grab a Piece of the Legend,” the home page proclaims, before sending you to its blander than bland Facebook page. Of course, you do have the option of clicking through lifeless promotional stills. The site also includes a brief tribute to the company’s’ founding brew master. Leaving aside the sheer improbability that a beer first made in the 1880s would taste anything like a beer made in 2011, I can’t see what this accomplishes.

Can’t sell the sizzle if the concept’s a fizzle.
After all, we live in a culture where a grasp of history is as uncommon as a distaste for beer. When the average high school student can no longer retain basic facts about America’s historical record, a marketing message based on “our proud history” seems hopelessly dated.

Yet over at Budweiser.com they’ve taken dated messaging strategy back to the future with a rambling encyclopedic rollout that, at one point, effectively links founder Adolphus Busch to the birth of freedom. Imagine pitching beer as a catalyst for fundamental American values.

If I had a tail, I’d wag it.

Seriously, I can’t imagine what audience this Bud narrative addresses. Certainly no one who just “grabbed some Buds.” You have to wonder about a digital marketing strategy that actually interferes with the enjoyment of its product. After a few pints, I doubt anyone’s going to wade through the site’s claims of environmental responsibility.

A beverage campaign that doesn’t grasp at straws.
Corona.com takes a more promising approach, simply by making no extraordinary claims for its product. Acknowledging that the purpose of beer is to be beer, it positions Corona as the bringer of Joy to Your Life. It then gives you the digital tools to create and post a photo montage, celebrating your own good times. By allowing users to associate themselves with fun and fun with Corona, the brand gives consumers a reason to care about it.

Eventually, however, Corona finally gives in to the urge to chatter narcissistically about itself. On Corona’s About page, consumers are led on a trip to 1925 when, I have no doubt, no one cared about the History of Beer, either. But at least this site has the sense not to hang its branded voice on the false assumption: “We’re good ’cause we’re old.” Funny how that works. In a country obsessed with youth and youth culture, many brands still expect that sales strategy to fly.

When over thinking bottles up demand.
Not that I expect a campaign based on the message, “We’re a totally Modern Beer,” would be more effective. To the extent that the Corona site succeeds it’s because it grows directly out of the product’s main attributes, rather than an appeal to history or any other abstract concept.

More interesting, perhaps, but no more relevant, is the approach taken by Beck’s Beer. At the moment, its site showcases Beck’s Green Box project, an ambitious program to promote graphic artists. While this has the advantage of drawing attention to a unique aspect of the company, the site says nothing that might encourage me to watch a Brewers game with a Beck’s in my hand, let alone visit an art gallery. It merely celebrates corporate sponsorship as a category.

And what, by the way, is a green box? Even if the answer proved plausible, the fact that I have to deduce it makes me wonder if there isn’t something better to do than visit this Web site. Like drinking a Grolsch, for example, whose home page offers a true Web experience in the form of a virtual walking tour of Amsterdam. Then again, most Americans don’t know much about Geography either.


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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