a his & hers weblog of worlds apart
Occasionally I’m completely baffled by a brand’s marketing strategy. One such example was Tiverton, Ontario’s Steelback Beer. Born in only 2004, Steelback exemplified how not to launch a product. A massive media spend with scattered, utterly cringing ads. It got so bad I used to joke with friends that Steelback was one big marketing practical joke. Their logo was plastered all over Ontario – ‘with television ads, racing sponsorships, arena naming rights, concert promotions’ – yet I’d never once actually seen 1 of their 11 beers in person (and I quite enjoy beer and beer drinking occasions). It must have been some sort of massive social experiment, right?
Sadly, it wasn’t. It all fell under the self-indulgent marketing plan of Frank D’Angelo. D’Angelo made his money in juices, but participation in his own Steelback ads are what gained him notoriety (see bartender in the above video). During prime-time television commercials he talked about Steelback beers with former hockey stars like Phil Esposito, about his energy drinks with disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson, and about the company’s Grand Prix race with actor Paul Newman. He also happened to sponsor a band – The Steelback Two-Four – in which he himself was the lead singer.
Believe it or not, it didn’t pan out. In fact, last year marketing costs alone surpassed Steelback’s revenues. As of November, 2007, Frank D’Angelo’s Steelback was history.
The new Steelback!?!
A few weeks back Steelback announced it was returning as a ‘reinvented microbrew’. New CEO Jonathon Sherman plans to “slowly develop a small number of craft beers in an Ontario market with a much smaller advertising budget.” He’s focusing on “appropriate packaging” and the “right image’, and saying things like “we’re selling the steak, not the sizzle.”
But I wonder if an understated approach is too little, too late. As perhaps the most atrocious campaign to hit Ontario drinkers ever, it epitomized egotistical overspending and irresponsible advertising. So how can a relatively quiet repositioning overcome the tarnished image of Frank’s Steelback? In a category as tough as beer, I strongly suspect it can’t.
The way I see it, they have a couple viable options for recovery:
1. Change the name and start fresh
2. (The more fun option) Not only acknowledge, but leverage their past blunders. Why? D’Angelo’s marketing efforts were so horrible that they were remarkable. So make that part of the story:
Hey, we realize we really screwed up and we’re sorry to have insulted you with such brutal advertising. But we have a great product now, check it out [if you can forgive us].”
What a great way to make your poorly spent ad dollars of the past work for you in the present. People like honesty (a brand apologizing for bad advertising is definitely not common) and they LOVE a good comeback story! Plus there’s a decent chance the ironic pabst blue ribbon crowd gives it a shot.
At the end of the day, I’ve never even tried Steelback. Problem is a lot of people haven’t. And I fear quietly repositioning as ‘Steelback the microbrew’ won’t help that cause. Hope you can prove me wrong guys…