I don’t have a TV at home. Which means I only get to watch network TV when I travel. When I was is in Banff last week (see my post about it here), I got to watch an Oilers hockey game in the hotel. The game was unremarkable (although ended with the right score). But it was a commercial that caught my attention.
It started with cartoon images and an over-the-top announcer pronouncing the amazing state of what seems to be a hipster. It extolled the state of their beard, t-shirt, a satchel that holds a growler, stout glasses and the popularity of beer. It then does a quick switch to boasting about the fact that all Alberta craft beer is 10% off. It shows a line-up of Alberta beer, including Alley Kat, Wildrose, Blindman, Bench Creek and Goat Locker (which, for the record, is not yet an Alberta beer).
The ad is from Liquor Depot, the largest beer retail chain in Canada and long a dominant player in Alberta.
There are two ways in which this ad is significant. First is that there was even a TV ad promoting Alberta craft beer. That is, I am pretty certain, a first. There have undoubtedly been sales on Alberta beer before – many pubs do it on a regular basis. But no one has done a TV ad for it.
Second, the sponsor of the ad is Liquor Depot. As a large chain its primary focus is selling as much beer as it can, meaning it gives a lot of space to the big, corporate breweries. Most of its stores have more of a convenience store size and feel – good for dash-in, grab a bottle that that thing and get home. Over the years it has had a pretty lousy reputation for supporting local craft (its ill-fated dispute with Big Rock a few years back just being one example). I have walked into many Liquor Depot stores (or their various sister brands) and been unbelievably disappointed by their selection – often walking right back out again.
The ad itself left me a bit cold. It seems to play on dumb stereotypes of hipsters and beer aficionados. But I think it is the first time bottles and cans of Alberta brewed beer have shown up on a TV ad, and during a hockey game to boot.
I write about this because I am convinced, despite the ad’s shortcomings, that it represents a new phase in the craft beer industry in Alberta. Until recently there simply wasn’t enough going on to talk about.
I actually believe that a market existed for Alberta-made beer, but big beer companies like Liquor Depot couldn’t see it. It was too much under the radar and offered too few opportunities for local beer fans to express themselves. The Alberta beer scene is evolving with stunning speed. It is not just the number of breweries popping up (which is impressive) but that most of them are struggling to keep up with demand. Albertans want Alberta beer, and finally they are getting a real opportunity to actually find it.
As a smart corporation, Liquor Depot gets that. They realize there are market share points to be gained by promoting local. This is a good news/bad news development. If all they want to do is capitalize on beer drinkers’ interest in local without committing to increase their selection of local beer, it will end up being a cynical, opportunist move. However, if this is a signal of a new commitment to promote local beer and increase their selection of local beer, then I think Alberta beer will have reached the next level in its development.
I don’t know which it is at this point. In the coming weeks I will make a point of popping into some Liquor Depot stores. I sure as heck hope they will have a bigger selection of Alberta beer than they have in the past. If they don’t, expect a post trashing them for hypocrisy.