22 Oct 2009 @ 9:03 AM 

I can’t help but think I’m going to be a little bit of a wet blanket, but I’ve been thinking a bunch about all of this.
Victory for Vermonster.
Aside from my original post on this a couple of weeks ago, while I was in the midst of an awesome head cold, I’ve been pretty quiet about the Monster v. Vermonster thing. A little bit of that has been in knee-jerk reaction to the intense outpouring of — well… noise — that happened around the internet in general right around the same time I posted my piece. A little bit of it was because the whole thing played out in a way that really kind of surprised me.

Social media is a measurement of fads. Not to say that social media, itself, is a fad (I think it’s here to stay) or that this case was somehow illegitimate and doesn’t deserve the attention it received, but the push that this particular story received via social media feels like a fad, and the notion that Tweeters somehow saved this beer feels like even more of group hallucination. I still think that Monster acted rashly and irresponsibly through this entire process and that the whole thing should have been a quick and quiet conversation between lawyers. Maybe hindsight is 20/20, but at the same time, if you’re running a publicly traded corporate entity, you should be good enough to respond to bumps in the road without making bizarre mistakes. There will be a lot of lessons learned out of this, mostly by large companies and lawyers.

Anyway.. fads and social media.

If you want to see an interesting social phenomenon, keep an eye out on the Twitter Trending Topics. It’s that list just below the search box. (Twitter users: Note how many of those are hash tags and quit already. You don’t need to hash tag every damn post.) Trending topics are a sociology dissertation waiting to happen. They represent the most popular current topics on Twitter. They range from popular news items to celebrities to funny hash tags (yes, okay). It’s like a snapshot of pop culture.

As far as I know, Rock Art and/or Boycott Monster were never in the Twitter Trending Topics list, but it didn’t matter. The noise generated by different aspects of social media – a dedicated Facebook group (15,000 members), a Care2 Petition (1,300 signatures), and shit-ton of Twitter traffic – was enough to get noticed by a few national media outlets at which point Hansen’s felt like there was undue pressure, primarily because it was damaging the reputation of their company and their product.

So, did social media save Vermonster? In a sense. My opinion is that Rock Art saved Vermonster; I’ll get to that in a sec. It’s my feeling that social media got the attention of larger parties (the national media and, eventually, Bernie Sanders (I-VT)) to get the issue resolved in a much faster, but much messier, way than I believe it would have been originally resolved.

To that end, go social media! Good work. Kudos to you. You texted like champs.

Now, I’m not party to everything that went on, nor am I any sort of lawyer – trademark, or otherwise – but I think this whole thing got blown way – and I mean WAY – out of proportion:

To my understanding, Rock Art was issued a Cease and Desist letter from attorneys hired by Hansen’s Beverage, namely one Continental Enterprises.

It’s a standard tactic used to protect your trademarks. Basically, if you have filed for a trademark and somebody else is doing something that could cause confusion of that trademark, it is your obligation as the trademark holder to ask them to stop. If you do not, and do not continually file statements of use, the trademark may be considered abandoned and you run the risk of losing it. Basically, a trademark is as good as your branding initiative and your team of lawyers. If you suck at keeping your brand, you risk losing the right to exclusively use said trademark. So what do you do? You send letters to people who may be infringing upon your trademark and you ask them to stop doing so.

Of course, this only works when somebody is actually doing something that is similar to your trademark. The trademark for an energy drink in no way resembles the trademark for a fermented beverage. There’s a really nice rundown of many of the trademarks involved at PJ’s blog Starting a Brewery.


This particular company – CE – apparently has a reputation for aggressively stretching the boundaries of trademark law. They’ve previously acted, for other companies, in pretty much exactly the same way they did in this instance. In case you missed it, C&D letters were also issued to BevReview.com (for posting an image of a Monster Energy Drink in a review in their forums), as well as actor Trygve Lode for being photographed with a Monster Energy Drink, whilst in costume as a monster (seen to the left). I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.

The actions are akin – to me, anyway – to those troll debt collection agencies. The ones that buy up a bunch of debt from companies at a significant discount and then attempt to collect on the full value of said debt, regardless of the fact that it may have been paid already, non-existant, held by dead people, whatever. They’re the kind of people that send you sternly worded letters with items in it that say things like, “Failure to respond to this request in writing within 30 days constitutes your agreement that you are liable for this debt.” It’s kind of slimy, but it picks off the low-hanging fruit and makes them money.

Similarly, these types of C&D letters are meant to stop the people who don’t want to bother arguing and will just comply immediately because it’s easier to stop using a name somewhere than it is to pay your lawyer a few hundred dollars to draft a response letter saying, “Your trademark and my product are entirely dissimilar. Please go away.” but in really official lawyery terms. A Cease and Desist Letter is not a lawsuit. It is a letter saying, “please stop doing this or we will consider taking you to court.”

The good folks at Rock Art, completely understandably, got scared. They’re a small company getting what appears, at least on the surface, to be a threat from a multi-billion dollar company. Further complicating the matters, they attempted to use the telephone to take care of the matter. CE stood up for themselves because – hey, they were just doing what their client hired them to do, back off man! The people at Hansen’s probably had no idea what CE was even up to, because that’s why you hire other companies – so you don’t have to worry about what they’re up to. Rock Art felt like they weren’t getting due response from these companies that he was calling – and he probably wasn’t – got frustrated, and dealt with the issue the only way he could think of.

Where everything gets bizarre, to me, is where social media starts to pick up on it. Once the wave of sympathy started moving for Rock Art the flood gates kind of opened up. Matt, at Rock Art, made a video with a couple of friends of his pleading his case – and quite compellingly, I might add (heck, I posted it, he really plead his ‘little guy’ case quite well) – and it went viral. All of a sudden, you’ve got this really compelling David v. Goliath story making the rounds and it’s centered around a couple of great topics: small business (the hard working American) vs. big business (faceless corporation) and it all had to do with everybody’s favorite working-class-beverage (I hate that, even if it’s true): beer!

Then somebody brought up the word boycott. Consumers think boycotts are fun, because it reminds them that they actually hold power over corporations. Indeed! Stop buying goods from a company and they will (eventually) do poorly. The reason consumers like boycotts is because they aren’t working for a company that’s being boycotted, but I digress.

I have a hard time believing that a 2 – 3 week boycott by Vermont distributors and random craft beer drinkers around the country did anything to hurt Hansen’s bottom line. Much more likely, they were worried about their reputation being tarnished in the long run. Too late, Hansen’s. Too late.

From what I understand, once things started getting pushed around on social media and local news outlets, Matt Nadeau at Rock Art started hearing from people in the chain of command at Hansen’s who, I’m sure, let him know that they weren’t actually trying to put him out of business, that this was standard business practice and that, yes, we can settle this out of court, let’s just draft some language to make it official.

And then this crazy thing happened where somebody at Hansen’s – Mark Hall, President of Monster Beverage – decided to respond to a letter by just.. some person who wrote in. Unsurprisingly, it was posted on Facebook. In it, Mr. Hall accuses Matt Nadeau and Rock Art of orchestrating this entire PR campaign revolving around this C&D letter. It’s actually a pretty brilliant accusation, but it’s a tough pill to swallow. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, this letter of accusation of Machiavellian scheming is where Monster does far more damage to itself than anything else. (Here Matt’s passionate response, as well.) But he makes a really good point:

When we reach an accommodation with RA which we will no doubt do in the next day or so how will we undo the damage to our brand and reputation? Who will have really won? Will you be as passionate about telling our side? My guess is no one will hear about the resolution because it is not nearly as sexy a story.

Nobody. Why? Because everyone wants to see the little guy win. And he has. Beer and confetti all around! From everything I’ve seen so far, he has retained the right to brew Vermonster so long as he promises to not get into the energy drink market. But was that ever the question? Like… at all?

As Andy Crouch brought up this morning, what has he actually won? Was his ability to continue to manufacture Vermonster ever really in doubt? Or has he actually won an enormous — and FREE — PR campaign on the backs of the quick fingers of fad-driven social media fans? How much more Vermonster will Rock Art sell this year? I’m willing to bet a lot.

I don’t think that’s bad, but it sure is interesting!

As a kind of postscript, I have a hard time feeling bad for Hansen’s in all of this. They hired a firm with a bad reputation to do unpleasant work poorly. Something like this was going to rear up and bite them in the ass eventually.

I also can’t help feel that the real lesson out of all of this is going to be obscured by the frantic re-Tweeting of “OMGZ WE WON!!11!”: Trademark law needs a good overhaul and companies like this one (CE, not Hansen’s) need to have their business practices reviewed on a regular basis for bullying – because this is exactly what this action was. The backbone of this country’s economy is small businesses, and these kinds of actions threaten small businesses.

Vermonster was never a threat to Monster Energy drink, and while it could have been (and maybe should have been) a quiet conversation between lawyers, the real story is that the C&D letter should never have been sent in the first place.

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What a great weekend to be a beer drinker in North Carolina. We get a double-whammy of the World Beer Festival and, in the interval between sessions, Fullsteam’s Backyard Beer Festival just a block away.

In one small (and very chic) city, we have the opportunity to get some of the best craft beer and some of the best homebrew around.

Holy awesome.

My plan in all of this goes like this: Myself (and a group of wonderful friends) will be attending the afternoon (12-4) session of the World Beer Festival, then we will be trucking over to Fullsteam where I’ll be pouring some of my homebrew at the Backyard Beer Festival.

If you’re around at either event, stop me and say hi. I’ll be wearing my bestest Top Fermented T-Shirt.

If you’re not around either event, I’m trying something a little new. Using the magical power of Posterous and my Android I will be recording short audio and video notes as I go and posting them (along with photos) live from both events. All of that stuff will dump onto Twitter automatically, as the day goes and I’ll wrap it all up with highlights here on the blog.

So join me online and off for a great weekend of beer, and witness, firsthand, my descent into rambling drunkenness. It should, at the very least, be entertaining and who knows? There might even be a nugget or two of good beer information in there.

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Categories: appreciation, beer festival, media, RDU
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 29 Sep 2009 @ 01 03 PM

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 29 Apr 2009 @ 12:21 PM 

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the wake of the Craft Brewers Conference and the “Beer on the Web” panel. It was good, but I almost felt like there wasn’t enough time to cover things in any sort of detail.
Tweet!
I talked to a bunch of people after the panel and there was a really wide array of comfort levels with technology. Some people in the industry are super savvy and comfortable with technology some really have no idea what we’re talking about, much less how to use it well. Today’s post is a service to the latter group. If you know a brewer(y), please pass this on:

What is Twitter?

Think of it as a micro-blog. It’s basically like what you’re seeing here, except in 140 character snippets. Everything you post on Twitter is available to anybody to read, unless you send a direct message – those are private. You can read more here before you sign up.

Why you should use Twitter

1. It’s your target demographic. Here are some interesting statistics about Twitter (collected by Nielsen Online):

  • 85% of Twitter users are over the age of 21.
  • Twitter’s largest user demographic is aged 35-49 (41.7% of traffic). This happens to line up almost exactly with the largest craft beer drinking demographic.

2. It reaches an enormous audience very quickly. Let’s pretend you’re just getting started and you have 200 people following your Twitter feed. You post something of interest, and half of those people decide to re-Tweet your post when they read it (this is when people re-post what you’ve posted, noting a re-Tweet by including the letters ‘RT’ at the beginning of the post), and let’s pretend that those people each have 100 people following them. You have, in about 35 seconds of work, reached 10,000 people with your message. Those numbers are small, too. To give you some comparison, at the time of this writing Dogfish Head’s Twitter feed had just under 4,000 followers, Rogue and Harpoon had about 1,700 each. Beer Advocate’s Twitter feed (and they do a lot of re-tweeting) reaches just under 5,000 people. Twitter is the fastest growing social network; it saw 7 million visitors in February 2009. These numbers all have the potential to grow and grow BIG.

3. It’s fast and free. Signing up for a Twitter feed takes about 30 seconds. Posting to Twitter takes about 30 seconds. You could probably do at some point to take 10 or 15 minutes to brand it with your design and color scheme. If you don’t have a marketing department that can wing this off for you in a heartbeat, drop me a line. I’ll do it for free. Seriously.

How to Post to Twitter

This is not a “where do I type” tutorial. This is “what do I share?” One of the questions in the “Beer on the Web” panel was something along the lines of: There’s not much happens that’s very interesting – half the time all I’m doing is doing yeast cell counts or cleaning tanks. So what do I post?

Well, posting that you’re doing yeast cell counts or cleaning tanks isn’t a bad start. In fact, it’s a great start.

Here’s the thing: You’re running a brewery or a brewpub. You’re not just selling beer. You’re selling you. You, the people who make your beer, who deliver your beer, who answer the phones, everyone, are all wrapped up in the personal brand that you’re projecting out to the consumer. Consumers can say, as often as they’d like, that who makes the beer doesn’t matter, it’s about how the beer tastes, but they’re not being honest with themselves. People love having personal connections with the products they consume and you can do this in a way that large corporations and megabreweries cannot.

You’re running a small business. Your brand is you.

Twitter, because of its brevity and its informality, allows you to give people an inside view of you and your brewery. It’s like being on a brewery tour every day. Let me show you a couple of great posts that have popped up in my Twitter feed over the past day.

The Twitter

See what’s going on here? You’ve got notification of promotions and events, you’ve got notification of new brews, and you’ve got a peek inside the life of a brewer. It shows a little process without giving anything away. Information is great, it will sell your product, you just need to put it out there because people are looking for it. Let them find it. They want to be a fan of you and your brewery!

Recommendations

1. Use it regularly. Like any presence on the web, having something stagnate is much worse than having nothing there at all. It’s amazing how many breweries out there have Twitter feeds with nothing on them – some of them even have a ton of followers and no content. It’s a huge waste of opportunity.

2. Pace yourself. You don’t have to post every 20 minutes. You can probably get by with just posting once a day, but really – if you’ve got a piece of information, put it out there. On the other hand, if you’re posting every single thing that comes up, you’re just creating spam. I have stopped following people because they tweet too much, other people will to.

3. Don’t go crazy re-tweeting. Pick and choose. Yes, when you re-tweet is encourages others to re-tweet, but it also, as I said before, creates spam if you do it a lot. Never, ever, re-tweet just to find something to tweet.

4. Get TweetDeck. It is a really easy way to get a handle on Twitter – it’s especially powerful as it allows you to create search queries, the example you see below is a column that I created on a search for “Duck Rabbit.” Note that I’m looking for a product name, not a twitter handle.

Duck Rabbit on the Tweets

I cannot say enough how much of an advantage I think it is for your brewery to use Twitter effectively and efficiently, the return on investment in incalculable. Use it. You’ll thank me.

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Categories: blog, brewery, industry, marketing, media
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 29 Apr 2009 @ 12 21 PM

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 24 Apr 2009 @ 10:34 PM 

Day 4 – Last day of the conference. I’ve got a lot to say, I hope you’re buckled in.

Interesting stuff today – my sessions started off on the practical level: Water and its Uses in the Brewhouse, and Oak Barrel Aging. Both good, the latter was especially fascinating, especially since I would like to do a fair amount of barrel again myself. I would have liked to hear him speak a little more to sour beers, but it’s just not as hot in the market as spirit-flavored stuff right now, so I understand the focus.

The afternoon held another “women and beer” session, this time by Ginger Johnson – a marketeer and beer appreciator – but (importantly) not a brewer. She was great. She was energetic, and she was peppy, and she had a message that I (mostly) agreed with focusing on education and social interaction. I spent the entire session writing down quotes, let me pass a few onto you. She started off by nothing that she was talking about women as a market segment, not as an issue. “Gender is a difference, not an inequality” she said and “Women are not a niche or a special initiative.” Yeah! I’m not sure she always stuck to this, but it was good to start with. I mean, you don’t start a women-only beer tasting group without it being somewhat of special initiative – after all, it’s women-only and it would seem that you’re doing it for a purpose, there.. The problem is, once you treat women as a different segment, you’re automatically create an inequality. If you say, “Women taste things differently” you’ve created an inequality (and I still don’t buy that shit. In fact. Let me make an aside:)

An aside:

I’ve heard this mentioned like 5 times in the past two days: “Women taste things differently than men.” Someone at the first panel mentioned that there had been some sort of study that showed that women have a better ability to detect acids than men do and some other incremental difference. So does that mean that women taste things differently than men? Yeah, sure. If what you’re trying to do is compare, on a minute level, the differences between palates. But here’s the thing: If I drink an IPA and my wife drinks an IPA, we are both drinking the same beer. I might love it and she might hate it (she’s not a hophead), but it’s not because she’s tasting it differently than I am, it’s because she doesn’t enjoy the hops. People taste differently than other people. It’s not because she’s a women, it’s because she has a different set of life experiences behind her taste preferences. However! What she tastes as an IPA is essentially exactly the same as what I’m tasting as an IPA since the only thing either of us have to compare it against is our own experiences with flavor. There is no possible way I can experience the beer as it is on her palate, so an incremental difference between us is inconsequential. Maybe this leans a little too far to philosophy, but the way I see it is this: If I start at point A and she starts 5 feet away from me, and we both walk three miles the only difference between us is our individual experience on a very slightly different path. We both walked 3 miles. Poor analogy, maybe, but it’s my standpoint.

Back to topic:

The thing that Ginger said that really rang true to me was, “It’s about real women, not about feminizing to sexualizing something … Treat them like the consumers you want them to be.” Hear-freakin’-hear. This goes back to my theory (which I will repeat again and again and again): You want women to drink good beer? Make good beer.

She brought up some sort of .. statistic or something. Un-cited it makes me a little nervous, I think she said she got this out of focus groups (and I also distrust focus groups.. so.. meh… it’s okay). What she said was: Women have higher standards than men. If you meet the woman’s expectations, you will generally exceed the man’s expectation. It sounds reasonable – though it does kind of fly in the face of “Gender is a difference, not an inequality.” I can’t say that I love that I might have lower standards for my beer than my wife. I like to think that we have different expectations, not that mine are lower. She might love a sweet malty beer and I might love a sour funky one. Those aren’t better or worse, or higher or lower or whatever. They’re different.

Aaaanyway (I’m clearly rambling today), the point is this: IF that’s true (which – in a general, population-level sense, sounds right) then finding this missed market segment is easy. But let’s say it this way: You want women to drink good beer? Make good beer.

Last session of the day was fun: Beer on the Web with Jason and Todd Alstrom, Jay Brookston and Joni Denyes from Odell Brewing. From my perspective, it was fun – not anything I didn’t know, but nice to relax and listen to something that I’m really familiar with. At the same time that the actual panel was going on, there was a sub-discussion going on on Twitter which was both serious and actually quite funny. Take a look at a Twitter search for #cbc09 and just scroll back oh.. hell.. probably a couple of hundred pages by this time, to see the chatter flow. For the record, and thank you Sean from Fullsteam for worrying my wife as she followed along on Twitter from home: My fly was up.

I think the only issues that I had was the panel were these:

1) It would have been nice to have a computer set up to the projector in the Amphitheater with a connection to the internet to actually demonstrate some of this technology. Unfortunately, while there were a bunch of people in the room who were very tech savvy and willing to discuss this technology, there were also a bunch who were essentially asking, “What’s the Tweeter? Is that on the Google now?” It would have been nice to have a way of displaying the technology that people were talking about – maybe having Jay’s blog and Beer Advocate up online, as well as O’Dell’s twitter, MySpace, and Facebook pages – it definitely would have required a longer session, though. Maybe next year, it’s a session that’s worth repeating.

2) I was a little irked about Jay Brookston’s comments about amateur bloggers. I’m trying not to take umbrage because I’ve so recently started pouring my head onto this blog, and look at this objectively. Fact is this: In a way, we are all amateur bloggers. The internet is a relatively young invention, and blogs moreso. Five years ago, we couldn’t have this conversation. So have professional bloggers risen overnight? I don’t think so. Maybe you had professional writers who have decided to move their content online, but that doesn’t make them any less amateur in the medium. I see where Jay is going – not everybody who runs a blog is serious about writing or serious about their subject matter. Jay has the advantage of being an established writer and having a good history in the beer industry. He also happens to be both tech savvy and a fantasic author – and this gives him a decided edge.

However, everybody has to start somewhere. Just because somebody is new or small doesn’t mean that they’re unprofessional or not good at what they’re doing. Good god – if that were the case, would we even have a craft brew industry? The point I hope Jay was trying to make was that – just because someone is running a blog doesn’t mean that they’re willing to approach it intelligently and that YOU, both as a business owner and a consumer of content, have to take the time to decide whether or not this person is worth spending your valuable time and attention. There’s little-to-no cost of entry involved in starting a blog, and because of that there is definitely a high level of jack-assery. Don’t take their existence as a credential, take the time to investigate them for yourself (or find someone you trust who has the time to do it for you).

So there’s my spiel to stop me from being an amateur, and actually make me someone awesome who is still trying to ping the radar. 🙂

Because.. hey.. I’m awesome right? And modest, too. Don’t forget modest.

All in all? Awesome week. I got to meet some great people, some who were just starting breweries and some who have been in the business for a long, long time. I got a lot of good perspectives and have come away inspired and hungry for more. I’m not gonna lie, it’s gonna be really difficult to head back to the 9-5 next week. I’m ready to start NOW.

Next year, the conference is in Chicago and I plan to attend with my wife and my (hopefully eventual) COO in tow to flesh out details of the business. Until then, there will probably be occasional mention of startup stuff here on the blog, but I’ll most likely focus on beer, breweries, as much industry stuff as I can dig up to keep myself engaged and moving forward.

I hope you’ll join me on the ride.

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Categories: blog, Brewers Association, industry, media
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 20 May 2009 @ 07 06 AM

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 30 Mar 2009 @ 8:13 AM 

Found a couple of interesting maps via the twitternet, and since maps and beer cities have been on my mind, I thought I’d pull ’em out.

made by lyke2drink.blogspot.com

lyke2drink.blogspot.com


The first (on the right and clickable), is GABF winners by state over the past 20 years. Fascinating. Again with that furrow down the middle of the country, and yet another case for Texas in the poll for Favorite Beer City. I should say that this map represents an enormous amount of work. I’ve been working on a little side project for a while that looks at breweries that have won medals at the GABF and just sifting through that information is hours and hours worth of work, to say nothing of the attractive graphic design. Mike Wirth over at Lyke2Drink: Kudos. That’s pretty.

North Dakota and Oklahoma both have 1 medal. In my heart of hearts I’d like to imagine that it’s because there’s some fantastic tiny brewery squirreled away somewhere in each of these states that are one some sort of “Best Kept Secrets” list. I hope that’s true. Is it strange that the states with the most space for farmland where they can (and do) grow thousands of acres of barley have very few breweries?

Anybody else feel bad for West Virginia?

http://www.sloshspot.com/

http://www.sloshspot.com/


The second (on your left and also clickable), lists the Top 50 Craft Brewers in the Country by Sales Volume (Brewers’ Association press release) and mapped by sloshspot.com. This one sheds a little bit of insight on some of the choice of cities in the Favorite Beer City list in my last post. Take a look at the cities popping up here: Missoula, MT! Fort Collins, CO! No wonder they’re there. Too bad they have a collective 67 votes between the two of them. It kinda under represents Big Sky and New Belgium in terms of popularity.

Even more interesting are cities on the Beer City list that don’t show up here: Cincinnati, Albuquerque/Santa Fe, and Asheville, NC (the current leader in the poll) among others. That makes you want to take a trip to see what’s going on in these cities that got them on this list, doesn’t it? I can personally attest to Asheville being a great beer town.

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Categories: appreciation, industry
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 30 Mar 2009 @ 09 04 AM

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