Beer Business Daily interview with Ted Wright on WOMM and beer

By Ted Wright January 28, 2009

From Beer Business Daily. January 27, 2009 


WOMM and beerLast week we caught up with Ted Wright, who is the managing partner at Atlanta-based Fizz, a word of mouth marketing firm.  Ted has worked on brands from Pabst Blue Ribbon to chocolate milk, and has based his firm on the data showing that mass media is out and viral, word of mouth marketing is in.  Here is a short excerpt of our talk, with a longer piece coming in MBA. 

TED ON FOUR STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL WORD OF MOUTH.  “Prior to doing this whole thing we said, okay, there’s four steps to this:  focus, design, delivery, and report. Those are the four steps to making a great word of mouth campaign. The first step is “focus”, and that’s really coming up with a story that is interesting, relevant, and authentic. If a story is interesting, relevant and authentic, it will get passed around.  Stories that fail on any of those three points, don’t get shared.  I know everyone’s talking about [Bud Light’s] Drinkability these days.  To us, Drinkability is a failure as a marketing campaign, because it is inauthentic. Is Bud Light authentically more drinkable about than any other light beer?  Saying Bud Light has Drinkability is like a Hyundai saying you can drive their cars to work. Duh, it’s a car! Other than the externalities out there, like Lamborghini, I could drive almost any car to work.  The same is true for beer, they all have ‘Drinkability’. People don’t actively share stories that they think are inauthentic. ”     

ON THE DEATH OF TV.  “Our data shows that when a friend shares a story with another friend the listener will go and spend his/her own money to try that product 93 times out of 100.  Television gets someone to buy a specific beverage brand about seven times out of 100. Print is even worse. The C-suite can do the math and this is what is driving them to word of mouth marketing. Dogfish Head and PBR are good beer examples. Tito’s vodka, Izze soda, Monster energy drink and VeeV are other beverage brands that have taken advantage of word of mouth marketing. Tito’s went 1,000 cases a year to about 225,000 cases a year all on word of mouth.   The fact is that the average North American consumer is bombarded with 6,300 commercial messages a day.  That’s just too many so people tune out everything.  When the story outside the bottle matches what’s going inside the bottle, and the story is interesting, relevant and authentic, then the story is shared. Consumers sharing of stories = an increase in brand share.”  

ON PBR’s EARLY SUCCESS.  “I know that you personally, Harry, keep mentioning retro and PBR. But I would like to tell you that retro has got little, if anything, to do with PBR’s success.  I think the authentic story about PBR is authenticity itself. Let me tell you why.  PBR at a certain point in its life stopped spending money on broadcast advertising. They went about 15 years and did not do much broadcasting at all. Times changed and PBR stayed true to it’s roots. Not because they had some over arching philosophy but because they didn’t spend money on much marketing at all. PBR found many of it’s accounts had been rediscovered by “hipsters” and their salesmen kept doing what they had always been doing, Sansabelt slacks and all.  These bars were now populated by people who grew up and were born in the ’80s and rejected what they saw as a materialistic way of living. They were saying, ‘you guys did all that yuppie stuff, I think that’s not real. I think that’s fake, and I’m going to go and seek those things that are real.’  Since PBR didn’t have any money, by default, all they could do was things that were authentic.  Salesmen went around,  wore their Sansabelt slacks, and they said, “Hey, I really like my beer, you should buy my beer. If you don’t like it, that’s cool too.  That’s how they were selling. So we basically took that ethos of, this is who we are, and we’re going to celebrate things that are authentic.  Brian [Kovalchuk, former Pabst chief] and Neal [Stewart, former PBR brand manager, now at Flying Dog] bought off on this idea, and we all kind of came up with this together.  “We could have gone the ‘red, white and blue’ route, we could have gone ‘Americana’. There was also a whole PBR/trucker hat/retro kind of thing happening. We intentionally did not do the retro thing, because retro is a fad, and celebrating the authentic is a choice.  We want to work with choices not fads.  Brian, Neal and the rest of the team, us included, created a program around the twin ideas of word of mouth marketing and a brand ethos of “authentic”. In was mini-Kiss, low rider bikes, turning washing machines in to beer coolers and Vice magazine parties. Out was anything we deemed inauthentic like Kid Rock or plastic promo girls. We wanted to be involved with anything that people were doing because they liked doing it. By going out there and supporting people that are authentic, and not asking anything of them in return some asked about our brand. The more we shared with them, the more they liked it. Some liked it so much that decided to spread the word like a Baptist preacher in a tent. With a lot of hard work by Pabst staff, agency folk, distributors and fans of PBR the brand has grown into the phenom it is today.”

Thanks to the good folks at BBD for the interest in WOMM and Fizz – ed.

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