Saving the whales with a killer collab

Better communicating its purpose is how Vancouver Island Brewing is hoping to turn its 'craft beer for dads' image around.

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One of British Columbia’s oldest craft beer brands, Vancouver Island Brewing, has been in a bit of a rut since about 2013, admits marketing director Chris Bjerrisgaard.

The B.C. craft beer market has ballooned over the last half-a-dozen years: numbers from BC Business point to a 10% shift in share from global giants to local brewers, with 20% of craft beer sales collected by indie brewers that appear to be taking the market by storm. That kind of competition would create a thorn in any heritage brand’s side, particularly when the challenger brands are positioned as more modern and in keeping with the new wave of craft beer.

“We had a disconnect from the new craft beer audience and we were seen as ‘your dad’s craft beer,’” says Bjerrisgaard at the 35-year-old Vancouver Island Brewing. “[And] despite being smaller than three of our neighbouring breweries, we were perceived as a Goliath by customers and consumers due to our longevity and approach to marketing in the past.”

While the brewer recently underwent a refresh (making tweaks to its name, packaging and portfolio) in 2017, more work is being done to “re-establish ourselves as Vancouver Island’s beer” after having lost its way, says Bjerrisgaard.

The company’s latest effort to “show [consumers] that we’re back and know who we are” lies in its Pod Pack, a limited-edition brew with purpose.

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The packaging, designed by One Twenty Three West, for the four-pack not only looks like a southern resident killer whale (or SRKW, which is a quickly declining breed), with cans that mimic real orcas from the SRKW pods  complete with eye and saddle patches – but it also attempts to save the whales by making sure there’s enough food in the oceans. Proceeds from every Pod Pack sold will go to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, a non-profit set up to protect the wild B.C. salmon stocks, a vital food source for the whales.

The special promotional pack of beers checks off several boxes for the brand, says Bjerrisgaard.

First, having the beer crafted in collaboration with other local island breweries (particularly those that don’t distribute outside of their town) showed beer drinkers that Vancouver Island Brewing is not an “unapproachable Goliath,” says the marketer. The collaboration also shows how it’s keeping up with “even the most nimble of our fellow brewers,” as he believes co-branded packs are not very common in the craft brewing industry. Second, the Pod Pack is an embodiment of the Vancouver Island brand and its company’s core values: from being neighbourly to explorative and resilient, notes Bjerrisgaard.

The complicated nature of the pack – “being a multi-brewery collaboration, a celebration of the Island we call home, and a charitable action all wrapped into one”  meant the brand needed to communicate its story beyond a press release or traditional ad. So it created a documentary about the brand’s purpose-led efforts, and will host the film at a floating beer garden with live music and food trucks on July 20 in Victoria.

The “Pod Fest” will also see a portion of its proceeds given to the Pacific Salmon Foundation and is being supported with digital ads that feature Jake Clark (one of the biggest craft beer influencers in Canada with almost 42,000 followers on Instagram), with the brand also creating content for Clark’s social accounts. 

Bjerrisgaard is one of the founders of Vancouver Craft Beer Week, and is relaying his background in experiential marketing and content for the beer brand’s fest, which he hopes will become an annual celebration with a second edition of the Pod Pack planned to launch next year.

“Because of the unique nature of the product, and how it hits a lot of strategic imperatives for us, we were able to go all-out in marketing the product as it goes beyond product and into brand,” he adds. “The Island is a very loyal place, once its people understand you’re here for them and what they stand for, they’ll give that love back to you tenfold.”