Here’s To Beer: The Tom Shipley Interview

Posted on Posted in Anheuser-Busch, Here's To Beer

Beer taking a backseat to wine in terms of consumer preference? Not a chance brewers thought. But when the Gallup Organization released its annual alcohol consumption report in July 2005, American’s brewers were dumbstruck. For the first time in the poll’s history, wine edged out beer as the selected drink of choice. This trend had been on the rise, but the results were still shocking. Newspapers and magazines used the news to take a swipe at brewers and to herald the death of beer.

Executives at Anheuser-Busch decided the industry needed to address beer’s sudden public image problem. With 50-percent market share, the brewery has a lot to lose if beer continued to slide in terms of customer preference. In response, the brewery created and launched a highly publicized effort designed to elevate public opinion and appreciation of beer. The ‘Here’s To Beer’ campaign debuted in February 2006 with a Super Bowl ad. Sponsored in conjunction with the Beer Institute, the ‘Slante’ ad showed beer drinkers clinking glasses and offering toasts in a multitude of locations and languages.

Nearly a year later, many industry observers wondered aloud about the future of the campaign. Shortly thereafter, A-B implemented the second phase of Here’s To Beer. In March 2007, the HTB website was overhauled, with web video added as well as an interactive educational component called ‘The Beer Connoisseur.? The campaign also recently released American Brew, a documentary on the history of American brewing by filmmaker Roger Sherman.

For the rest of the beer industry, the Here’s To Beer campaign has been slowly building grassroots industry support by way of its point-of-sale materials offered on HTBmarketing.com. As part of HTB’s second phase, A-B is hoping to secure greater industry support with this campaign, which allows wholesalers, distributors, and retailers of all affiliations to create customized print ads for local newspapers and signs and other promotional materials for accounts. According to A-B, more than 300 wholesalers have signed on to the program so far.

I recently spoke with Tom Shipley, director of Global Industry Development at Anheuser Busch, about the second phase of the Here’s To Beer campaign, its cool reception among other brewers, and about the campaign’s effort to secure greater industry involvement for their goal of elevating the public’s perception of beer.

Andy Crouch: To start, why don’t you tell us a little about how the Here’s To Beer campaign got started.

Tom Shipley: That would go back to the end of the summer in 2005. All of 2005 and at the end of 2004, there were lots of negative stories in the general media about beer. We sort of hit this perfect storm of slight declines in share of total alcohol coupled with a Gallup Poll, which we could argue with Gallup on the validity of that poll. They polled a thousand people that summer of 2005 and about four-hundred of them said they were underage or didn’t drink, so then they had a pool of about six-hundred people. Then they asked the six-hundred people who were left, ‘What form of alcohol do you prefer?? It was widely touted by Gallup, ‘Now more people prefer wine to beer.? You and I both know the reality of that. People behave one way and might have an attitude another way. So there was an opportunity to work on people’s attitudes. Too many of those six hundred people thought the correct answer was wine even though their behavior indicated that two out of three of them were more likely beer drinkers.

We saw an opportunity to address that, to set the record straight about the sheer size of the beer category and to remind them that it is 57 or 58-percent of total alcohol. But also to set the record straight because that Gallup Poll, some declines, as well as some pretty aggressive PR by the hard liquor industry started to drive a lot of media stories. One was even on the cover of the Advertising Age. It was a gravestone that said ‘Beer R.I.P’ and the headline was ‘Beer is Dead.’ That really motivated us to action.

August Busch IV asked my boss Bob Lachky to put together a group that would be focused on the beer category from a PR and ad perspective, which we got to with the rollout of the Super Bowl commercial in 2006. And to get aggressive with industry groups and constituents that we identified as influencers. We’ve done speeches to the usual suspects, the Brewers Association and the Beer Institute and state wholesaler groups across the country, but also to academic groups across the country, press clubs, and any media we can get an audience with. We talk about the size of the category, to set the record straight and also the variety and styles of beer and how well they pair with food.

The overall objective is to elevate and enhance the image of beer and it’s evolved into a pretty powerful platform. We’ve been pleased with the response from the craft community and from other brewers. Now in the beginning there was some things about who is supporting the campaign and who is not supporting it. I think that by and large everybody supports it but it just depends on how you define support. If support is sending a check to Anheuser-Busch to help fund this thing, nobody supports it. If support is activating the press with the materials we have on HTB marketing, I think we have support from about 300 beer wholesalers and brewers outside of our A-B system.

AC: I read an interview recently in which Bob Lachky [A-B’s Executive Vice President of Global Industry Development] said that the brewery was looking to “go it alone? on the campaign. Can you talk about the early days of the HTB initiative and what efforts were undertaken to get other industry players on board?

TS: In the earliest days, we took a hard look at other industry campaigns, such as ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,’ ‘Pork, the other white meat,’ ‘the Incredible, Edible Egg,’ and ‘Got Milk?’ All of those things are check-off programs, which basically mean that all the dairy and beef producers contribute a certain amount of pennies per pound or gallon of milk they sell and it goes into a big fund. That’s how those are funded. Looking back, maybe it was a little naïve to think, ‘Hey, why don’t all of us throw into this fund and we’ll put the people behind it to run the campaign?’ We did that through the Beer Institute. It was successful in that the Beer Institute, through a vote of all its members, said it would support the first Super Bowl ad through the perspective of PR, press conferences, and media outreach. It was something that through the Beer Institute we support. Beyond that, where we went in to have everything contribute money or convert some of our media—that’s where, looking back, we decided to go it alone. Those that decided not to put money into it helped us make that decision. Then looking back, if you think about it, any kind of creative endeavor especially where it is advertising, the fewer number of decision points the more efficient the process is.

AC: I know there was some grumbling in the industry, and especially in the craft market, about Anheuser-Busch and its possible motives for doing an ad campaign like this. Are you at all disappointed that there hasn’t been more industry support?

TS: I agree with you that in the very beginning there was grumbling but I think the campaign has sort of proven itself to those that have criticized it. I haven’t heard anything from those critics in the last year…It’s telling that there hasn’t been any criticism. It’s really neat to read some of the threads lately from the Beer Advocate folks. There has been more than one that has said, ‘Well maybe they’re really trying to grow the pot.’ Disappointment is long gone and has been replaced with pride and validation in the campaign. We knew all along that it’s a campaign to elevate and enhance the image of beer. If a ‘critic’ says, ‘You’re just trying to grow the beer category because you guys have almost half the category’ we have to say, ‘Guilty as charged.’ That is true and we’re not really trying to hide that. It’s pretty public knowledge the share we have in total beer. I think it’s also telling that a big part of this campaign, you can see it in print and in television spots, is to educate people about the wide variety of beers. That includes beers of all different flavors, styles, and colors. The majority of what we sell, let’s face it, is in the American Lager and American Light Lager categories. But you’re seeing us really emphasize other categories and other styles. Part of the reason we’re doing that is to elevate and enhance beer…When you about what the average consumer thinks about wine, if you could take that average consumer twenty years ago they could probably tell you there are two types of wine: red wine and white wine. Now that average consumer may not know every specific geography and style but they certainly know there is more than just red and white wine.

AC: Tell me about how the American Brew movie project got started?

TS: That goes back to about the time when our group got started in the Fall of 2005. Ken Burns approached Anheuser-Busch, as I’m sure he approached other companies, looking for corporate sponsorship of his next major project…As we we’re in discussions about the sponsorship, we suggested it would be great to do a history or documentary on beer…Ken recommended his partner at Florentine Films, Roger Sherman. He has a rich body of work himself, an award-winning documentarian. We met Roger and quickly came to terms and commissioned a documentary about beer. The name of the project, who was interviewed, how the story was told was all in the editorial control of Roger. We gave him a lot of leeway and I think that comes through in telling the history of beer and the renaissance of beer today.

AC: I know the Here’s To Beer campaign also has an industry component.

TS: We’re going to continue to work internally, in the industry, to invite and encourage more people to get on HTBmarketing.com and download materials. Herestobeer.com and HTBmarketing.com essentially started at the same time in February 2006. Herestobeer.com had lots of traffic with a slow decline over the next eighteen months. It’s shot up again since we changed it and the numbers are going up. The numbers at HTBmarketing.com since the beginning have continued to increase and we’re seeing an increase in downloads. You can download point-of-sale materials and print it out to merchandise the category. The lowest hanging fruit there is for wholesalers to merchandise retail accounts or retailers to merchandise their own accounts with this beer themed point of sale, it’s not branded point of sale. It’s for accounts that historically have not wanted any beer advertising in their stores because it doesn’t have the image that fits with their store. When the wholesalers present them with the new materials with a different look, not branded and just about beer and beer styles, that is where they are getting a yes and getting the opportunity to merchandise accounts. People should get on HTBmarketing.com. All people have to do is tell us who they are and where they work and they get a username and password. They can then go ahead and find opportunities to use the materials.

For the campaign, the big push is to be more entertaining on Herestobeer.com. That will continue to change and inform and be more fun. Then there is this platform of pairing beer with food. It will help general consumers to understand that beer pairs with food in many cases better than wine pairs with food, but I guess we have to crawl before we walk.

–Article appeared in the July 2007 issue of Beverage Magazine.

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2 thoughts on “Here’s To Beer: The Tom Shipley Interview

  1. “For the first time in the poll’s history, wine edged out beer as the selected drink of choice.”

    C’mon Andy. That’s not true. As an increase by percentage, wine certainly surpassed beer’s decrease in sales, but by total volume, wine has never been near the amount of beer that’s consumed yearly.

    If the brewing industry had total sales of 100 gallons in a year and vintners had total sales of 10 gallons, what happens if beer sales would fall to 95 gallons and if wine increased to 11 gallons?

    Go by percentages and the headlines would read that beer sales had fallen 5 percent while wine sales had risen 10 percent. But in total gallons, brewers would still be pushing out 95 gallons vs. the vintners’ 11 gallons.

  2. Welcome to BeerScribe and congrats on the book, Bob. I think you may have glossed over what I wrote. I was talking specifically about the results of the 2005 Gallup Consumption Habits poll in which 39% of Americans reported that they drink wine more often than any other alcoholic drink. The figure for beer was 36%, and for spirits, 21%.

    Neither I or the poll said that people actually buy more wine by volume than they do beer. And while brewers tried to make the very argument you made in your comment, it fell flat, regardless of its truth. It was the perception issue (people thought the right answer was wine and they lied accordingly) that rightfully scared brewers. Beer had a self-inflicted black eye and the HTB campaign was designed to counteract this.

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