Miller Lets New Craft Brew Speak for Itself

CHICAGO ( — MillerCoors' new "craft" beer is so small that it can talk to its drinkers individually.

Colorado Native Lager, which launches this week, comes from the No. 2 U.S. brewer's A.C. Golden Brewing Co. unit, which brews craft-style beers in small quantities and markets them exclusively through digital and word-of-mouth channels. The marketer says the brand is brewed from "99.9%" Colorado-grown ingredients, a percentage that includes the locally made glass bottles. It will be sold only in Colorado, at least at first.



With Colorado Native Lager, A.C. Golden is using the model that worked for MillerCoors' Blue Moon: seeding the brand through word-of-mouth and letting consumers feel as if they "discovered" the beer for themselves, which encourages them to introduce friends to it. To do so, it's putting the entirety of its tiny Colorado Native budget into mobile and social-media channels.

Every Colorado Native label is affixed with a "SnapTag," which, if photographed on a mobile device and e-mailed to a specified phone number, allows the brand to begin a conversation with its drinkers.

After e-mailing in a picture of the logo, a drinker will first get a reply asking for their birthday. If they say they're older than 21, they'll be queried with Colorado-centric trivia about their hobbies and interests, and the database will remember the answers and use them to craft future communications and offers to each individual drinker.

Colorado lifestyle
Depending on what each purchaser tells the brand, it could receive communications on outdoorsy activities such as hiking or skiing, Colorado sports trivia or notices about bar nights and special offers. It'll also inquire about their favorite local charities, which will receive 25¢ from each case sale. Colorado Native also uses more conventional social-media means, such as a Facebook page.

"This brand is all about our consumers and their Colorado lifestyle," said Glenn Knippenberg, A.C. Golden's president. "And this technology is going to allow the brand to evolve based on what they tell us about their lifestyle."

Colorado Native is the first brand to use the SnapTag technology on its packaging, although companies such as Unilever, Ford and Crayola have used it on ads and displays. Brewers have typically been slow to move into mobile and social-media channels because of concerns that age verification presents too big a hurdle for consumers to be willing to jump over — Anheuser-Busch InBev's Michelob is perhaps the only major-brewery owned brand on Twitter, for instance — but that isn't stopping MillerCoors here.

Jane McPherson, chief marketing officer at SpyderLynk, which created the technology, said that in an invitation-only event to introduce the brand to bartenders and waitstaff, 95% of the people who sent in a SnapTag went through with the age-verification process. "And once you go through the age-gating, you never have to do it again because we remember you," she said.


SNAP TO IT: Colorado Native is the first brand to use the SnapTag on its packaging, although companies like Unilever have used it on ads and displays.
SNAP TO IT: Colorado Native is the first brand to use the SnapTag on its packaging, although companies like Unilever have used it on ads and displays.

That's an unscientific sample, for sure, but it won't matter unless the beer appeals to its discriminating target: Colorado craft-beer drinkers. The state features some of the most successful craft brewersñincluding New Belgium Brewing Co., which brews the popular Fat Tire brand at the same above-premium price point at which Colorado Native will debut.

What drinkers don't know …
Those drinkers could be skeptical about any product brewed by a giant, but Blue Moon Belgian White is evidence that macro-brewers can create craft-style beers that can achieve scale. Belgian White, currently the largest craft-style beer in the U.S. with 1,150 barrels shipped in 2009, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, was introduced by Coors in the mid-1990s without media support, and the company let it pass for a microbrew of sorts. Progress was slow, and it was nearly shuttered around the turn of the century, but the brand eventually gained traction with consumers.

"Most consumers don't know or care who brews which brand," said Beer Business Daily Editor Harry Schuhmacher, pointing to Blue Moon and Anheuser-Busch's Shock Top. "But it is true that the hop-heads and real-beer enthusiasts do care."

Regardless, small-scale craft brands have continued to grow robustly through the recession despite being priced higher in many cases, a stark contrast to their pricey imported peers, which have been bludgeoned by drinkers trading down to cheaper brands.

If Colorado Native does get traction, of course, it raises another question: Can the brand co-exist with Coors' Colorado-centric namesake brand, which puts the Rocky Mountains and its heritage in the state at the center of its messaging?

Mr. Knippenberg said that's not likely to be an issue. "They're located here but they don't use only Colorado ingredients," he said. "It's a different beer, at a different price, and it's much hoppier and much drier. No one is going to confuse it with Coors Banquet."