Camp Shock Top: 5 Questions With AB InBev Craft Beer VP Jake Kirsch

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Camp Shock Top

Shock Top tried to capture the segment between craft and mainstream beers with its Super Bowl ad featuring comic T.J. Miller and a smart-aleck beer tap made of an orange slice and sunglasses.

As an encore, the AB InBev-owned brand is teaming with Camp No Counselors to run a summer camp for 1,000 adults “in need of a weekend adventure.” Dedicated to “living live unfiltered,” Shock Top will host “the camp we’ve all been waiting for with no counselors, no curfew and plenty of fun.” Camp No Counselors is “an all-inclusive sleepaway camp for grown-ups” for three nights, a Shock Top press release said.

It all sounds pretty wild but Shock Top assures that the type of unfiltered experiences it wants to deliver to lucky camp-goers includes preparation of “gourmet takes on camp classics for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with epic campfires, talent shows and”—well—”parties that go late into the night.” Camp Shock Top will be hosted at four locations—outside New York City, Austin, Miami and Los Angeles—and campers will stay in cabins with access to a host of daily activities ranging from archery to water trampolining.

“This is sort of the ultimate unfiltered thing, getting away from your life, unplugging,” said Jake Kirsch, who oversees the Shock Top brand in his role as Global VP of Marketing for Stella Artois & Craft Beer for Anheuser-Busch InBev, to brandchannel. “It’s a little bit ridiculous going back to summer camp like when you were a kid. It was really the perfect way as a summer idea to continue what we’ve been doing in the first quarter.”

brandchannel spoke with Kirsch about how the Shock Top brand is pivoting to summer mode.

bc: Craft brewing has revolutionized the beer industry and yet smaller brands have proliferated so much that they’re challenging one another as well as the heavyweights. How do you stand out in all of that?

Jake Kirsch Shock TopJake Kirsch: As a brand in the high-end group in Anheuser-Busch, we deal with it every day. It’s the same way you stand out in anything: with unique positioning, unique products and great storytelling. Ultimately, it comes down to a lot of the same principles.

Shock Top is in an interesting position. We have a great portfolio at AB. Our role at is as a bridge from the mainstream to the high end. What works for us is we really combine this unique positioning that borrows some things from the mainstream but also going against pretense and living life unfiltered, with an irreverent tone, that’s almost in opposition to things going on on the other extreme, with craft. But craft has aspects that you wouldn’t find in the mainstream. So it’s a great position for Shock Top to be able to occupy.

bc: Why are you launching this particular promotion at this point?

Shock TopKirsch: We’re recommitting to the brand as a company to take it to the next level of growth. From 2008 to 2014, it grew on average 35 percent a year. So we said for 2016, how do we get the brand to the next level? We have a tremendous awareness opportunity as 60 percent of people still don’t know who we are. That started in Q1: We were the first company that wasn’t a mainstream lager to appear during the Super Bowl. We brought the idea of being unfiltered and being yourself along with our wedge-head character and T.J. Miller in this partnership where they’re buddies and making fun of each other.

That helped to reach a lot more people. So for the summer we said, how do we bring more depth and meaning to this? We’re also Bringing T.J. Miller back as part of that partnership , and there is a holistic program including Camp Shock Top. It’s not about us slapping our logo on things—that doesn’t work any more. But it’s shared experiences.

bc: Beyond the experiential aspects for the participants in Camp Shock Top, how will Shock Top be marketed now?

Kirsch: We have a few different aspects. We’re bringing back T.J. to do more content and PR. Also we’re doing a lot with retailers and bars as well as off-premise like grocery stores to engage people that way. It’s a nice holistic program for the summertime.

bc: Will Shock Top be returning to TV ads?

Kirsch: The Super Bowl is a unique cultural moment. Yes, we were on TV, but people watching the Super Bowl are tuned to go to see the ads. As we look forward, we’re looking for more of those cultural moments where we might use TV. But some of the most effective things we did weren’t on TV—they were on Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook. The broader audience we want to talk to is on those platforms and allows us as a risk-taking brand to express that.

bc: So Shock Top and Blue Moon have a competitive thing going with orange slices being integral to the brand. Who gets to own that?

Kirsch: I’m biased in that view. We get the orange at the end of the day. We can look at Blue Moon and focus on what they’re doing but they have a very different strategy than we do. They’re going more into craft and evolving their positioning more to do  that. This may be right for them but not for us. We’re looking for people who want to trade up—even if it’s just for the weekend. There’s much bigger potential volume there and it’s much more complementary to our portfolio.


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