Case in point: Samuel Adams.
Way back in 2006, Sam Adams recognized that to win, it needed to be distinctive. So the brand dumped its truly ordinary advertising campaign, one that looked like many a BigBeer effort. In its place "For the Love of Beer" came to life in ads that registered the brand's distinctiveness versus BigBeer. Sam Adams pioneered craft.
Who could've foreseen that Samuel Adams--the largest of the craft brewers--would one day become a victim of the same craft-beer frenzy it helped pioneer?
Distinctiveness doesn't necessarily last
Early in 2014 we sounded an alarm. Looking at advertising for Leinenkugel's and Fat Tire that copied the Sam Adams strategy, we said:
If these craft brewers--and many who will no doubt follow them into television advertising--land on essentially the same strategy, that strategy loses power. What could well have been distinctive and differentiating for the single pioneering brand--in this case, Sam Adams--is substantially eroded when it's divided among several brewers.
And that's exactly what happened. Sam Adams became less and less special as the horde of craft-beer brands promoted themselves on television, and more often, through online videos essentially the same way. As we put it, seemingly every craft brewer served up:
..."real people"/from a nice place/believing in their beer/having fun brewing beers/using good wholesome ingredients/(while caring for the planet)
Sam Adams' growth rate tapered off, ultimately disappearing altogether. What had once been distinctive pretty quickly devolved to generic.
If we have preached--ad nauseam, some might say--a single route to advertising success, it is: Provocatively capture your product's distinctiveness. Having seen its strategic distinctiveness vanish in a tide of look-alike, me-too craft brands, Sam Adams wisely re-strategized to focus on product-distinctiveness.
Not long ago, Boston Lager launched a new ad (and a new advertising look) focused on "balance." No other beer--craft or otherwise--of any significance had addressed this feature, so it really is distinctive. And not only did the Sam Adams ads introduce this new term, they defined it so as to gently impugn many of their smaller rivals in a competitive, Goldilocks fashion. Unlike other craft brands, Sam Adams is... Not too hoppy... Not too malty... Just (the) right... balance.
The second ad in the series for "the Nitro Project" is even more potent (pun intended). Here's distinctiveness you can see and taste in the beer! Unmatched smoothness. And while some other craft breweries have toyed with the nitrogen idea, none has promoted it heavily, certainly not on national television.
How quickly Sam Adams gets its groove back will depend on how strongly and consistently they pursue this strategy. But based on their past success with advertising decision-making, we'd bet they'll be back on track soon enough.
Meanwhile, their imitative craft competitors would do well to consider which distinctive features of their own they ought to promote.
Because product-distinctiveness sells.