Woodchuck wants consumers to know that its cider comes from a real cidery, and it’s spending more than $2 million to drive the message home.
In its first ever-advertising campaign, entitled “Why Woodchuck,” the company squares its sights on competition from large beer companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and even Boston Beer, all of which have rolled out their own cider offerings in recent years and cut deep into Woodchuck’s share of the small but fast-growing cider market.
“We are not going to sit back and let the consumers be fooled,” said Terry Hopper, the vice president of sales at Vermont Hard Cider Company, which produces Woodchuck.
Developed in partnership with Smartfish Group, which is led by former Heineken CMO Christian McMahan, the new Woodchuck ads playfully emphasize the idea that Woodchuck is the only large cider company with an actual cidery. (It’s a competitive advantage that is true for now, at least. Boston Beer, via its Angry Orchard line of ciders, has plans to open its own orchard and R&D facility in upstate New York.)
“We had to find that inherent brand truth that stands above all others,” said McMahan. “The one thing that they really has is this realness and authenticity. It’s their strength and that message has to be heard.”
So what’s the message?
“It’s not the name that matters, it’s where your cider comes from,” the ad states.
In fact, Woodchuck is so invested in its sense of place that it trademarked the tagline “real cider from a real cidery,” a move the company believes reinforces its Vermont heritage.
“It doesn’t matter if we are the biggest or the second biggest or whatever we are, we are the most authentic,” said Hopper. “We want to carve out our niche and we think this is the way to do it. We want to own something.”
The ads, both video and radio versions, will run in six cities – Austin, Phoenix, Denver, Minneapolis, Kansas City and Hartford – and air across platforms like YouTube, Hulu, Pandora and terrestrial radio.
“Only 49 percent of all cider consumers know about Woodchuck,” said Hopper. “That means 51 percent have never heard of the brand. How do we get those 51 percent of consumers who have never heard of Woodchuck to ‘try it?’”
To help support the ad campaigns, Woodchuck is also spending more than $250,000 on retail samplings, launching a nationwide consumer contest (to win a custom-built backyard cider pub) and rolling out redesigned core packaging in the fall. The company also recently launched a redesigned website.
The new packaging, also developed by Smartfish, is a cleaner and more modern take on Woodchuck’s somewhat dated look. The company, which shared unfinished mock-ups with Brewbound, described the new packages as “style forward.”
Indeed, the new core six-packs will feature more stylized arch to the “Woodchuck” type. Amber, Granny Smith, Hopsation and Pear varieties more clearly indicate the primary ingredients and, noticeably hidden from the packaging is the company’s racetrack Woodchuck logo, which is now displayed as a small thumbprint in the bottom corner of each pack.
The hope, Hopper said, is that the new look and the new campaign will help Woodchuck emerge from a downward spiral that has plagued the company since Angry Orchard launched nationally in 2012.
“They are pulling every lever to get them back in a good position,” said McMahan. “They are pretty determined to turn things around.”
C&C Group — which purchased Vermont Hard Cider for $305 million in 2012 – is still struggling to see a return. Volumes were down 17 percent for the 2015 fiscal year, according to company financial statements. And recent data from market research firm IRI Worldwide pegged volume sales down more than 15 percent through May.