Mill Street takes on beer tropes

The brand's summer campaign aims to show consumers it's thinking about beer more than ads.

mill_street_6299_2_16_003_organic_lagerThis article appears in the Summer 2016 issue of strategy.

You won’t find neon bandanas in your Mill Street mixer pack this summer, one of the brewery’s new radio spots assures us. And its print ads might strike you as somewhat rudimentary.

That’s because, in the hypercompetitive beer market, invaded on one side by dozens of new craft breweries and on the other by big brand gimmicks, Mill Street is trying a different route in a new campaign that claims to eschew marketing altogether.

“A lot of the beer companies are all kind of fighting around the same space,” says Jeffrey Zietlow, Mill Street’s VP of marketing. “They’re all singing the same message, whether it’s local, fresh ingredients, small batch.”

The brand has been poking fun at beer marketing tropes – from summer promo packs with giveaways inside to telling the stories behind the beer – in radio spots that launched in May. Its print ads, which followed in June, are deliberately basic to show it’s focused on making beer, not ads.

Even though the ads go out of their way to show that marketing creativity is an afterthought, there is an agency behind them. The campaign is the brand’s first with Grey Canada, a relationship that formed after ECD Joel Arbez, who had worked with Mill Street before at Saatchi and Saatchi, joined the agency earlier this year. The campaign, which runs until Labour Day, recognizes a more savvy beer consumer, he says, interested in quality and taste more than marketing as options have exploded in recent years.

Arbez describes Mill Street – which was purchased last year by Labatt, bringing it into the massive Anheuser-Busch InBev tent – as a “transitional” beer, sitting between the small craft challengers and the big breweries. Zietlow says it’s able to win over new drinkers from both ends of the beer spectrum.

“We wanted to hit the sweet spot. We didn’t want it to be too crafty, or hipster-inspired creative,” Arbez says.

“There’s no $30,000 photo shoot, there’s no hand-painted sign done by an artisan.”

Radio spots: