Clarification appended; updated 4 p.m.
Budweiser wants in on the Philly beer scene. This is not a secret.
At the beginning of September, Anheuser-Busch InBev started running an aggressive marketing campaign for its flagship American beer. It centers around the hashtag #phillyheavy (regular Bud is sometimes known as “Bud Heavy” to differentiate it from “Bud Light”), and the idea is to get Philadelphians to view Bud as a “local favorite.”
But Dock Street Brewing, the grande dame of Philadelphia beer, has a message for the megaconglomerate brand: Real Philly cred doesn’t come so easy.
“Just because you have money in your pockets, that doesn’t mean you can buy Philly,” says Dock Street vice president Marilyn Candeloro. “That’s one thing I’m gonna die in my grave believing, that our grit, our skepticism, it’s never going away.”
Bud has #phillyheavy? Dock Street’s going with #phillysteady.
The Philly born-and-bread outfit announced the counter-campaign in an Oct. 26 blog post titled, “We grew here, you flew here.”
“It takes real grit to be a Philly native or resident,” wrote Dock Street. “And while there’s room in this city for big beer and craft breweries alike, we just ask that you don’t act like you’re from here.”
On its face, Budweiser’s tactic makes sense. US beer market share has fallen for the past several years as younger people migrate to wine and spirits instead of just crushing six-packs, but those who are still drinking beer are increasingly likely to choose something made locally.
The #phillyheavy campaign tries to get in on that. It starts with billboards and posters, some trying to channel our underdog zeitgeist with messages like “If Philly was easy, everyone would do it” and others simply stating “The City of Brotherly Love” over Budweiser red (because surely we were all in danger of forgetting that slogan). It also goes beyond traditional advertising, because these days, most people ignore regular ads. The real way to get your product noticed is word of mouth. If there’s not real buzz? Create it.
So ABI — which also happens to be opening a Goose Island brewpub by the Fillmore in Fishtown next year — enlisted paid “influencers” to spread the word and sing Budweiser’s praises.
If you follow Philly Instagram stars like street artist Conrad Benner (@streetsdept), photographer Neal Santos (@nealsantos) and graphic designer Adam Englehart (@adam_englehart), you’ve probably been unable to avoid the #phillyheavy posts proliferating across their feeds.
Dock Street, which was founded in 1985 as Philadelphia’s first microbrewery, has no issue with the people promoting the hashtag. “They are still the artists, musicians, photographers and incredible Philadelphians that keep this city alive,” says Candeloro. But to her and the rest of the current Dock Street crew, which includes co-founder Rosemarie Certo and her kids Sasha and Renata Certo-Ware, Budweiser is barking up the wrong tree.
“Forget about our love of craft beer, Philly isn’t even a Budweiser city!” she says. “Go bother some other city with this.”
There wasn’t a ton of planning behind the #phillysteady campaign — surely a lot less than behind the one that inspired it. “We don’t have a legal department to run it by,” says Candeloro, and there was no detailed distribution plan. Dock Street tagged several local breweries in an initial Instagram post, and is hoping the hashtag spreads on its own.
“I bet it will take off,” says Candeloro. The company isn’t a stranger to internet virality — a beer infused with the sounds of the Wu Tang Clan gained international coverage, as did one themed after The Walking Dead (it was brewed with goat’s brain) — but this latest matter cuts to the heart of Dock Street’s identity.
“This is the most exciting thing we’ve done in a while. It proves that we’re independent.”