Sep 14, 2020

Unboxing The Beer Industry: How Brands Are Evolving in the ‘New Normal’

Written by Dan Hughes

One important fall holiday is not happening this year—Oktoberfest. Droves of jovial beer enthusiasts should be flocking, right now, to Munich, Germany—and a host of venues across the world—to drink, dance, and enjoy this iconic beer festival.

Oktoberfest, which was due to start on September 19, has been cancelled due to COVID-19. So, we thought we’d fill in this gaping stein-shaped hole by celebrating the beer industry in all of its resilient glory.

We will look at how beer enthusiasts are honoring Oktoberfest in the virtual age as well as how the beer industry has been evolving its digital marketing efforts and managing in these uncertain times.

Oktoberfest in the Virtual Age

Unboxing The Beer Industry: How Brands Are Evolving in the ‘New Normal’

Oktoberfest may be cancelled (and the image above reminds us why) but if digital transformation has taught us anything, it's that with the right platform and a little ingenuity—most things are possible in virtual form.

To keep the festivities rolling during times of mass isolation and bring beer-lovers together, people are taking the initiative of hosting virtual Oktoberfest events.

The Last Drop Beer Festival Team has created an event called Droptoberfest—an evening of craft beer celebrations that include virtual tours of California's best breweries as well as talks and social chat groups. This forward-thinking virtual beer festival offers access to the event as well as a stein swag bag, and nine Oktoberfest-inspired brews to drink on the night, with every brand or regional brewery working together to spread awareness and build a buzz. And, this is merely the tip of the beer-berg.

COVID-19 and the Beer Industry

During the start of lockdown, beer sales have been a mixed bag. Studies show that 82% of the UK's craft breweries have seen a drop in sales since the start of the pandemic.

As many smaller independent breweries supply restaurants, bars, and pubs, they took an enormous hit during the lockdown period as significant parts of their business models were placed on hold while people were told to stay home and not socialize.

Comparatively, global beer brands and larger scale breweries have seen a surge in supermarket sales since the start of the pandemic. And generally speaking, online beer sales have risen by 42% since March 2020.

It is true that many small brewers are struggling right now, but the brands (big and small) that have embraced the growing demand for beer delivery are reaping the benefits.

Stoke-on-Trent’s Titanic Brewery, for instance, secured a £1 million loan to keep the business to maintain supplier relationships and keep operations afloat during the crisis. Since securing the loan, Titanic has invested in developing new brews and creating at-home drinking experiences with its wildly popular mini-kegs and ‘pubs in a box’—both of which have sold out consistently since launching during lockdown.

This savvy initiative has not only worked well for the brand but demonstrates the great potential for digitally-driven home drinking experiences for brewers of all shapes and sizes.

IWSR drinks market analysis research suggests the beer industry will remain resilient as the pandemic slows, gaining a possible competitive edge on wine and spirits due to these key factors:

  • Investments in developing markets including Africa and Asia are likely to yield improved brand awareness and increase global sales.
  • The thirst for online beer shopping is likely to continue as the pandemic slows, offering a viable lifeline to surviving craft beer brands looking to re-emerge from the bottom of the COVID barrel.
  • Increased innovation in the beer industry has resulted in flavors and tastes that lift the bias towards the male drinker. As more women are seen to consume beer—a movement most likely sparked by the widening range of experimental craft and non-alcoholic beers as well as the rise of female Instagram influencers—we expect to see significant shifts in brand messaging and brewery marketing campaigns.

Another notable point to mention is that some of the world’s largest and most successful breweries are based in Africa (Group Castel), Japan (Kirin), and China (Tsingtao and China Resources Snow Breweries—which is actually the world’s second biggest brewery behind Anheuser-Busch InBev, responsible for Bud). Not only is this a great piece of trivia for the pub quiz but it’s a clear indication of just how strong the beer industry is as a whole.

Oh, and of course, how could we forget Corona beer? Despite the brand name being dubbed the slang name for COVID-19 or coronavirus, sales in Corona beer have risen by 28.8% during the pandemic. Cheers!

Bubbly Examples of Beer Industry Marketing

Now that we’ve explored some notable beer industry news and trends, let’s take a look at three examples of how the beer industry has embraced digital marketing over the last few years—starting with BrewDog.


Unboxing The Beer Industry: How Brands Are Evolving in the ‘New Normal’

Scottish craft beer legend, BrewDog, has often led the way in terms of innovation—such as creating branded hand sanitizer for key workers during the pandemic, among many other inspired initiatives.

To keep its altruistic focus while maintaining brand awareness as the pandemic enters a new phase, BrewDog has teamed up with ‘Dogs on the Streets’ and ‘All Dogs Matter’ in collaboration with the dog-loving broadcaster and actor Ricky Gervais to launch its charity beer, ‘StreetDog’—its limited-edition cans of Punk IPA.

This noble and inspired influencer-led campaign is already gaining traction and 100% of its profits will go to charity. A level of brand reputation that will help to grow BrewDog’s audience while encouraging loyalty as the pandemic endures.


By boosting its TV, social media, and digital efforts during the pandemic to meet new consumer behaviors and needs, international lager brand Heineken has earned a significant boost in sales.

Among its mix of impactful marketing activities over the past few months, the brand’s #SocialiseResponsibly and #BackTheBars campaigns stand out in particular.

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Tapping into the human urge for connection during times of isolation, this video is amusing yet heartfelt, and strikes a real emotional chord while positioning itself as a go-to beer for making virtual get-togethers during lockdown.

Outlining the pitfalls of video—so  much a part of the pandemic—the campaign’s hashtag enjoyed a healthy level of engagement on social media.

Budweiser’s “Wassup" Ad

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One of the most iconic beer ads in history (remember the frogs in the bayou?), and a campaign that is credited as having sparked the era of viral videos, Budweiser’s “Wassup” commercial from 1999 has been revamped for consumption in 2020.

Featuring a group of friends checking in with each other by phone, the 2020 revamp fits with real-life situations: the slightly more nostalgic version above featuring old-style phones this more soft-hearted video-chat themed approach:

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A testament to the enduring power of good beer advertising and how, with a few tweaks, an old concept can resonate with new hop-loving audiences.

A Parting Glass

Whether you like a bubbly American craft brew or a classic flat British cask ale, one thing’s for sure: beer companies are resilient, innovative, and will continue to thrive, whatever the outlook. With more promotional outlets and creative options than ever before, even the smallest breweries can enjoy a revival as time goes on.

Beer is alive and well—and even if we can’t attend Oktoberfest in person this year, we should all raise a glass to this most enduring and exciting of industries—prost!

“I work until beer o’clock.” Stephen King

Dan Hughes
Dan Hughes

Dan is a content writer specializing in digital marketing, emerging tech, music and looking after a toddler. You can find out more about him and his work by visiting his Catchy Space.

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