Social backlash for AB InBev and why it matters

Mastercard recently released its holiday Spending Pulse report stating that retail holiday sales increased 5.1 percent to more than $850 billion this year – I hope you saw your share of that spend in your market.  What does that have to do with AB InBev, you ask? One of the team members at Market Your Craft pointed out a social post from the craft division of the drinks giant last week that created quite a stir. What resulted was social backlash from the beer community; non-engagement from AB InBev; and ultimately removal of the post after hundreds of reactions within 24 hours.

Show me this colossal fail >

Pears for AB InBev PostWine, spirits, beer and non-alcoholic beverages are all competing for attention, relevance and customers. After seeing the post from AB InBev’s Wicked Weed Brewing promoting a Brettanomyces Farmhouse Ale fermented with pears, I was reminded of the crucial role that marketing plays in building – or in this case further eroding – brand credibility and authority. In a crowded selling environment where the buyer has access to “perfect” information, craft beer brands have to be better than this.

What follows is a high-level reminder to all of us on what to do before unleashing new brand content on the world:

  • Keep messages concise and on-point: if you can say it in fewer words, do. There’s nothing worse than over-selling an idea or concept (my team reminds me of this when they review/edit my emails, lol).
  • Use phrases familiar to your audience: if you’re speaking to a technical audience, feel free to drop the industry jargon on them. Otherwise, imagine your email being forwarded to someone new to your brand and make the language more approachable.
  • Fact-check where necessary: wow, what can be said about this email that the hundreds of responses haven’t captured already?! The information in the post is just incorrect, and to a mildly-to-highly-engaged craft beer enthusiast, it appears uneducated. Get the facts straight or expect social backlash.
  • Ask yourself, “does this message support my brand?” Wicked Weed automatically has a strike against them for selling out to AB InBev, however this doesn’t help new brand prospects or forever fans have confidence in the brand.
  • If you’re going to post, be willing to defend: people will disagree on how to handle backlash like this. If it happens, remember what we discussed in our tips for crisis management on social media post: address the issue directly and give customers an outlet…to a point. In this example, a good mea culpa or quick acknowledgement of the poster’s mistake is better than non-response (which invites social backlash).
  • Use a second set of eyes: it doesn’t hurt to have someone else who isn’t as close to the communication as you are give it a quick review. Often, they will point out mistakes or angles you didn’t even consider when drafting.
  • Legal: hopefully it goes without saying, but in craft beer we have to be especially careful our messages are legally-compliant, addressing the right audience, etc.

Missteps like this one risk losing the customer forever. But remember to keep audience size in mind. To AB InBev’s benefit, we’re talking about a small, highly-vocal minority of craft beer customers that were impacted by the post over the 24-hour period. The collective pride of the Wicked Weed team will take a sharp hit, unfortunately, and more craft purists will cite the growing divide between beer for the masses or for the few. The influence of that vocal minority is significant within their social circles, to be sure, but the social backlash for Wicked Weed ultimately won’t result in a loss of sales volume for the parent. And, much like a conversation in passing, this will be a non-issue by next week. Your annual sales volume likely has fewer zeros on the end, so in terms of scale a mistake like this one might have a proportionately greater or more lasting effect. Not a threat by any means, just something to consider.

“But I don’t actively use social, let alone for posts like this,” you might argue. I completely get it – some craft beer brands rely on other forms of marketing to create and foster high-touch and -value relationships with their customers. Poor brand communication like this example from Wicked Weed can occur in any medium, from print to digital to events and everything in-between. The point is that you will benefit from looking at all of your customer touchpoints through the same lens to ensure consistency and brand relevance. Only then will you have a truly integrated marketing effort that will help drive traffic, build engagement and capture new sales without fear of social backlash.

Post from AB InBev on behalf of Wicked Weed, plus select responses:

Wicked Weed original post fost for AB InBev social backlash postThere were hundreds of reactions to this post before it was pulled from Facebook. The team grabbed a real-time screenshot as the backlash was happening.
Yeast comments on AB InBev social backlash post

Bourbon County comments on AB InBev social backlash post

Marketing comments on AB InBev social backlash post

What we’re reading this week:

  1. Kentucky distillers scientifically emulate a century-old bottle of bourbon: the team at Castle & Key Distillery outside of Versailles, KY, found a circa 1917 bottle of Old Taylor on the distillery grounds and are using today’s tools to recreate the recipe.
  2. CNN televised its news anchors getting drunk on NYE: it’s happened enough to be called a “tradition,” but we should hold our public figures and celebrities to a higher standard.  I’m all for celebrating off-camera, preferably with craft not crap…
  3. Changes to tied-house rules allow beverage alcohol producers to pre-promote events in California: now in effect are the changes approved and filed in September of last year by Governor Jerry Brown of California. Allowances for beer, wine and spirits producers now include listing specific retail location information, reposting a venue’s social media promotion and displaying imagery/photography (but no video). Expect other states to follow suit.

MailChimp archive:
https://mailchi.mp/dcb799513544/190103_email_abinbev?e=a83dcf3085
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