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The Ontario Beer Revolution – Media Narrative

You know who people love? Rudy Reuttiger.

Maybe you know the story. This kid who stands maybe 5’6” and weighs a buck and a half dreams of playing for Notre Dame. He plays for a different school initally but manages to transfer over to Notre Dame after several failed attempts. He works really really hard and ends up on the scout team and eventually, just before he graduates Notre Dame he gets put in an actual game and sacks the Georgia Tech quarterback. He earns the respect of his fellow players and his father and he’s carried off the field as the crowd chants his name. RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!

Even the toughest tough guys tend to shed a single tear during that scene. If that’s ever happened to you,  you big galoot, you’re going to hate the next paragraph:

Sure, it’s a personal triumph for Rudy, but there’s no reason it should matter to you even a little. I am a Canadian non-football fan who doesn’t care about the Fighting Irish or a football game that happened before I was born or whether some little dude managed to make good by working real hard and taking his vitamins. I think that everyone has to admit that sporting events generally have no more importance than we lend to them. Think about the number of column inches that were printed about LeBron James going to the Heat. There’s no reason he should be paid that much. Hell, there’s no particularly compelling reason people should be paid anything to play a sport. Sport generally is a largely futile endeavor that we have invested societally with emotional significance based on our personal associations and preferences.

And yet, every time I flip past that movie on AMC it’s the same result: a single extremely manly tear.

Here’s the thing: We have been conditioned to care about situations exactly like that. There’s some kind of underlying Jungian archetypal structure that makes everyone want to root for the underdog: David and Goliath; Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant; Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader; Leonidas vs. Xerxes.

Think momentarily about Rocky IV. It’s an American made movie from 1985 in which the bad guy is a steroid taking Russian the size of Pripyat. Of course the American is going to win. You know that there’s no way that Stallone loses the fight right from the outset, if only because it’s an American movie and you can’t have a Communist beating an American in 1985. And yet, the storytelling and the narrative structure compels you to root for Rocky Balboa even though you know in the back of your mind that this is the fourth movie in the series and Rocky always eventually comes out on top. It’s helped quite a bit by Dolph Lundgren being particularly menacing as Ivan Drago.

Much of North American culture is based on this particular monomyth: Rags to Riches; Manifest Destiny; Horatio Alger. Plucky underdog overcomes the odds. Local boy makes good. It’s what happens in every summer blockbuster and most importantly it’s what we’re all conditioned to want to see happen.

Here, then, is my question:  In an industry like Craft Brewing in a market like Ontario, which is just filled with real life plucky underdogs and local boys attempting to make good, why isn’t anyone taking advantage of the ability to craft an image for the media which would make people root for them?

You’re talking about an entire industry that contains forty companies who make up five percent of the market. Their main source of product distribution is a huge government monopoly with no real impetus to change. There are at least three multinational companies controlling the other sectors of the market whose individual advertising budgets are larger than just about all of the independent companies gross annual revenues, possibly combined.

Nobody starts out in craft brewing realizing a return on their investment. These are people who are understaffed even after decades of work. They are not making a huge amount of money. These are people who have voluntarily entered an industry that they absolutely and concretely know is controlled by a handful of very large multinational companies. This is a decision that they have made based on love. They love brewing; they love beer; they want to share their passion for it with you.They want you to be able to drink better beer and they are essentially risking, if not their lives, then certainly their financial solvency in order to make that happen.

And this is the best part: It’s not a fiction. Craft Brewers are absolutely the underdogs. You can use the existing narrative structure to your advantage while telling the truth!  No fabrication is necessary.

Beau’s already knows this: They built their media image into the brewery from the outset. They’re constantly promoting the fact that they’re local, organic, and family run. They understand the value of promotion and marketing their image. I’m relatively sure that I’ve seen more newspaper articles about them this year than I have seen for all of the other craft breweries combined.  Beau’s Lug Tread won the Golden Tap Award this year for Best Regularly Produced Beer in Ontario. I don’t necessarily agree that it is the best regularly produced beer in Ontario (it’s not without its charm), but I have to concede that it is potentially the most heavily marketed craft beer in Ontario and that it has the most iconic packaging. In a contest with online voting, that’s probably functionally the same thing.

Think about the stories in the craft brewing industry. The guys at Black Oak, for instance, quit their jobs just over a decade ago to follow the dream and they work incredibly hard every day. They’re winning awards for their tenth anniversary beer. Paul Dickey has come out of semi-retirement to launch Cheshire Valley Brewing on a full time basis because it’s what he loves doing. Mike Lackey over at Great Lakes moved up to brewer after nearly 20 years with the organization and most of what he’s doing is very popular and well received. If that’s not local boy made good, I don’t know what is.

Just about every indepedent brewery in Ontario has a similar story. The truth is they’re all underdogs. If you control 0.025% of the market, it’s just a fact that you have to live with. The stories are all relatable, and I suspect that it can’t hurt to tell them since it gives the consumer something to associate the brewery with. As much as brewers want to think that it’s all about the product, it isn’t. It’s about the product and its perception and the appeal of that product to the consumer. Even the largest  Ontario based Craft Brewer has a legitimate claim to exploit this inculcate societal desire to root for the underdog and if you want to expand sales and awareness it’s a powerful tool. Potentially the OCB could pull it off.

All I know is that if this force is capable of getting people to like Sean Astin’s acting, it’s capable of anything.

2 Thoughts on “The Ontario Beer Revolution – Media Narrative

  1. “……the most heavily marketed craft beer in Ontario……” *cough cough* Mill St……

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