New Belgium Brewery
Greg Owsley, Chief Branding Officer.

On my first night in Monterey, I stopped by a local liquor deli to stock my mini fridge. Not seeing anything ‘natural’, or ‘organic’, I settled on Fat Tire Ale, a character beer I had tried and liked once in Colorado. Little did I know I had chosen a beer from one of the nation’s most sustainable companies, and that by the end of this conference I would be a lifelong fan of the brand, their ideals, and their marketing.

Fat Tire Amber Ale is the flagship product of New Belgium Brewery, who presented their brand ethos on Wednesday in the person of Glen Owsley, a Redford-jawed Colorado type who looks like he could’ve just stepped off a cruiser bike himself.

The great thing about this brand is that the quirky, off-beat personality was not grafted on by a team of award-hungry ad agency creatives. It comes directly from the culture of the people that inhabit the Fort Collins brewery. From square one they were shooting for a more sustainable model. “We had a triple bottom line before we even knew what that was”, claims Owsley, “We’re eco-worriers.” Wind-power, efficient brewing equipment, extra waste water treatment and more. They had so many sustainable initiatives, they decided to write a song about it, and produce a music video… of sorts… called Something Good.

Go with your soulNew Belgium initially followed a path taken by numerous craft brewers – start with a good story, create a funky name and let the grass roots take hold. Greg calls this the ‘Aw Shucks’ marketing approach. But that approach can only go so far. Chief Branding Officer Greg Owsley sums up hitting that wall. “We were too big to be small, and too small to be big”. So he took them mainstream with a television ad that ran in 2005 and 2006 that launched the tag line “Follow your Folly. Ours is beer.” This gave them some momentum, but they soon realized it was still not enough. “If we wanted to have real impact, we needed to look at our ripple, not just our splash.” Says Owsley. So they got to work mixing their branding with sustainable activism. Through the process, they refined four key adages of sustainable branding:

1: Walk before talk.
2: Admit our flaws.
3: Go with your soul.
4. Make ripples.

These tenets were brought to life through the fantastic photocollage illustrations of Fat Tire’s print-based brand campaign, but the majority of press and customer attention has come by as a result of some truly inspirational rituals, sponsorships and events. Their genuine cycle culture (employees get a free cruiser bike after their first year of service) led them to sponsor the world’s largest traveling bike festival, The Tour de Fat, this year held in 11 cities. Their newest initiative, Team Wonderbike, has 11 of The Tour de Fat web sitetheir loyal fans going to a whole new two-wheeled level by trading in their cars for a new bike from Fat Tire.

Their environmental cause celebre is to save rivers. By getting naked. This tongue-in-cheek approach to cause marketing is a smart way to communicate on serious issues without getting preachy. It also gives the ads permission to be a little riskier as well.

So does this all move beer? Seems to. But if not, they are at least changing the world one trade-in at a time.

“We like to lead the parade: If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.”


One in a series of articles on Lorne’s Sustainable Journey to the Sustainable Brands 08 Conference in Monterey CA. Click here for the full list of sessions, or here for the ‘Fear & Loathing’ road trip journals.


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