Labatt is planning an expensive, intentionally misleading ad campaign for Shock Top



Shock Top is a beer made by the massive, multinational brewing company AB-InBev.

People who drink craft beer know that Shock Top is a beer made by AB-InBev and its local consortium Labatt, and those same people who know that Shock Top is a Labatt product often speculate that the line between Shock Top and actual “craft beer” is likely left intentionally hazy so that Labatt might conceivably pass Shock Top off as craft beer–which it most certainly is not.

And while we, the stout sniffing cognoscenti, have always known in our heart of hearts that Shock Top is part of the macrobrewery effort to get “crafty” as a means to compete with (and presumably crush) small brewers, it doesn’t make it any less galling to actually see that strategy laid out on paper.

But now we can.

Yes, Ben’s Beer Blog has obtained a document, labelled a “Connections Brief” and dated September 16, 2014, that actually lays bare the 2015 strategy to pass Shock Top off as craft beer and, while your inclination while reading the marketing-speak-riddled nonsense (Link to PDF below), might be to assume that this is a joke I created, I assure you it is not.

The brief discusses the plan for new advertising for Shock Top and explains that the increased marketing is because “Shock Top is Labatt’s big bet in the battle against Micro Craft.” And while I wish that “Micro Craft” were a bearded super villain hoping to take over the world one firkin at a time, it seems clear that this is the term that Labatt uses to discuss the scourge that is brewers making craft products in small batches–brewers who are incidentally (and awesomely!) “eroding Labatt’s share,” according to the document.

The marketing plan, it seems, is to build on the opaque nature of the story of Shock Top’s origins because Labatt feels it “has the small brewer/craft credentials to compete.” Indeed it looks as though they look to build on the misconceived notion that Shock Top “is from a small brewer,” something that their market research has shown 75% of people believe.


There is no shortage of ridicule-worthy bullshit in this very short brief (probably most notably that it contains the nonsensical sentence “flavoursome taste to drive Shock Top penetration with Experience Maximizers in the ‘Reward Myself’ need state.” Holy shit that’s a mouthful of corporate garbage), but the short of it is this: Labatt is hoping to increase the production volume of Shock Top by 40% next year and is planning to spend $2.7 million dollars in 2015 to make people think that Shock Top is a craft beer.

First, I’ll give you a minute to address the wounds on your hand after you presumably put your fist through the nearest car window after reading that last insane sentence.

Now that you’ve stemmed the bleeding, let’s talk about the crazy irony of this statement: Labatt is spending more money next year than most craft brewers will ever spend on marketing in the lifetime of their breweries in order to pretend that one of their brands is made by a small, unknown brewer. This is all kinds crazy and evil at once.

To give you some perspective, in 2012, the Canadian division of the Anheuser-Busch InBev brewing corporation posted after-tax profits of more than $9 billion (source). And now, because people are drinking more craft beer, Labatt is hoping to intentionally mislead consumers into thinking that one of the beverages they make (soon to be available in chocolate and spiced pumpkin!) is actually made by a smaller company so they can get some of that sweet, sweet craft dollar.

Craft beer in Canada is experiencing a surge in sales because people are finally beginning to get out from the collected steaming pile of roughly 50 years of marketing that has brainwashed us into thinking that all beer is supposed to taste like watery variants of the same rocky mountain goat urine. That is, craft beer is booming largely because people are rejecting macrobrews and learning that smaller companies are making interesting products about which they are passionate.

Perhaps we can be optimistic that craft beer has had such an effect on the market for the same boring lagers that the big guys are now spending millions of dollars to parade as craft brewers, but it’s ultimately pretty maddening that Labatt is hoping to use their marketing muscle to trick people who have intentionally moved away from mass-produced beer into drinking mass-produced beer disguised as craft beer.

Check out a scan of the brief here (I redacted employee names): Labatt Connections Brief Sept 16, 2014.

Given how much there is here to rage about, I feel like I only scratched the surface so please feel free to sound off in the comments below.

80 thoughts on “Labatt is planning an expensive, intentionally misleading ad campaign for Shock Top

  1. Pulitzer prize stuff. Labatt is just generally full of shit. It will only take a few craft brewers and drinkers a few tweets to turn this campaign into a nightmare for them. Can’t wait.

  2. Full disclosure: Advertising student (read: scum of the earth)

    This is no joke, they’re going to press this hard. Their aims for Q2 and projections on spend means we should see a hardcore marketing crush in May… to compete at summer beer festivals.

    Spread the word, beer lovers – fake craft is about to step all over our shit.

  3. Reblogged this on Schoolhouse Craft Beer and commented:
    Ordinarily my philosophy concerning micro versus macro is that as long as a brewery is making a great beer, the size of the brewery doesn’t matter to me. But when a big multinational pretends to be a small craft beer producer, they’ve crossed a line. I think that what these guys are doing is absolutely reprehensible and we should be shining a bright light on this kind of BS. Thanks to Ben Johnson to uncovering and sharing it with the beer world.

  4. Ben – good find! This is disgusting, but this type of shit has been happening in the US for a long time (e.g. Blue Moon), where mega-corporations have been actively working to trick consumers into thinking they’re drinking independent craft beer. However, to see the strategy so nakedly articulated is at once both hilarious and infuriating.

    1. Or maybe it’s just that companies put different products under different badges, to appeal to different consumers. Is a Cadillac a worse car because it’s actually a GM, or a Bugatti a crappy vehicle because its owned by VW?

      1. Cadillac isn’t pretending that their cars are handmade by a guy in his garage. Brand diversity isn’t the issue. Transparency is.

    1. Fact of the matter is, this is part if their campaign… Whether over stocking the shelves with the same liquid in 5 different packages or covertly integrating their mass produced craft imposters into the new, and long awaited “Ontario Craft Beer” sections, the big brewers are using the parameters of the LCBO system to their advantage.

  5. This was a really good read. I’m not surprised. Keiths all ready tried to get some craft dollars with the hop series. I asked the Shock top representive at the toronto beer festival; what they were doing under the Ontario craft brewers tent. He told me “Shock top is brewed in London” fake craft 🙂

    1. One major difference with the Keith’s Hop Series was that they didn’t try to pass themselves off as a small craft brewer. Everyone knew it was Keith’s and to be honest I thought they were actually pretty good beers.

      1. I’m glad you enjoyed the Keith’s. I thought they were a 2 out of 5. I never got the impression that they were trying to pass themselves off as a small craft brewer. Just thought they were travelling down the same path as bud black crown. I rather have a local beer on the self then another labatt product. Calling Sleeman and Keiths premium is a croc.

  6. If it’s real beer, made with real ingredients, and if it tastes good, it doesn’t really bother me. I think there is some debate about whether “craft” means “real beer” or means “local/small production”. I tend to favor first definition. I really don’t care if production is small or large. I, for one, would be extremely happy if Drakes Brewing produced as much beer as AB.

    In any event, they won’t kill craft. They can market all they want, but people like me will still pay a premium to walk to my local brewery and have fresh beer.

  7. He’s the rub that they don’t seem to understand. All they are going to do is manage to convert Blue and Canadian drinkers to Shock Top. Once they’ve started their macro swill drinkers down the road to flavour town they may take a quick stop at Shock Top village but it’s not going to end there. Me? I say that you Labatt – I couldn’t have created a better conversion engine with the budgets I have at hand. Your efforts in killing us will only make us stronger.

    1. I agree totally. This isn’t Watergate, this is Labatt very nearly throwing in the towel. (Unless they make Shocktop with a new recipe so vile it will drive wannabe crafties back to Bud. That could be their evil plan.)

  8. Shock Top is awful stuff. Much worse than most of Labatt’s other offerings to be honest. That said, who cares whether it is “macro,” “micro,” craft” or “nano” brewed? If it tasted good, I’d drink it.

    Seems a huge waste of money though. I’d wager 99% of all craft beer sold in 2014 was/will be sold to someone who knows what Shock Top is. You might get a few of the Heineken/Stella/Steam Whistle crowd to buy a six pack, but that is about it.

  9. I drank a shock-top once, several years back. Had never heard of it, so tried it. It tasted exactly like what it is–a macro trying to do a craft-type product. It doesn’t have the nuance of a real craft beer. Any craft beer drinker would be able to tell right away. Not knowing (the labels tell you nothing), I assumed from the taste that it was a macro (a la Blue Moon) and later found out I was right.

    Craft brewers need not worry much. Labbatt might take a few pints away from the micros this coming summer, but nothing more. The bottom line is that Shock-top does not taste like a real craft beer. People who want the genuine article are not going to start drinking it.

    1. Yeah, I had the same experience with Blue Moon. Somebody told me it was a new craft beer and I tried it. Three sips were enough to tell me it was crap. Not bad, but not very good. The kind of bad a real crafter would have tossed and started again. Hard to believe anybody into beer could mistake one for the other. Micros tend to be unique flavors where macros tend to be all the same.

  10. Who cares? Does it really matter if some small “craft” breweries go out of business? Stop creating FUD about a reputable brewer. You are just a beer terrorist!

  11. Interesting report…one point though. AB InBev didn’t make $9 billion in profits in Canada…that was their worldwide profit.

  12. I hate to admit it but they fooled me. This stuff is available at my local corner grocery store here in QC (around the corner from my house) and I gave it a try one day last year. We don’t have the same choice as you do in Ontario, especially at some retailers who only stock the macros.
    I noticed that after two beers I would get a headache, the same headache I get when my neighbours offer me Molson or Labatt products. I thought nothing of it and once in a while I’ll grab a few Shock Tops when I’m in a pinch buying beer from this local store.
    But no more thanks to this article. I honestly thought it was from a small brewery somewhere in the states.
    I have one in my fridge that will be disposed of immediately.

  13. I agree with a lot of the people on here. If the beer is good, I don’t think it really matters where it’s made, as long as it’s made in a responsible manner. If people like to drink it, why shouldn’t they? Macros still brew with the same ingredients as micros. Water, hops, malt, yeast, maybe some adjunct grains. Cooking it in a bigger pot doesn’t change the ingredients…so why do y’all care so much?

    1. They care because a large corporation is trying to trick you into thinking they are a small local company. If you don’t believe how evil this is check out what Wal mart has done to mom and pop stores in the states. In this day and age people vote with their dollar. They want to contribute to something that has meaning to them.. and in a lot of cases they want to fund someone who is doing something with passion and putting their time and love into the end product, not throw money at a multi billion dollar a year earner, who under pays their workers btw.

      1. That and the undeniable history of large Canadian breweries buying up and closing smaller craft breweries in the post-WW II period. It has happened here before.

      2. They also care because one a corpo gets the idea they can switch a decent product with swill by giving it the right packaging and marketing, all you’ll get is swill. They’ll debase the whole market.

  14. Many years ago, I was at an investment lunch and Peter Widdrington, the CEO of Labatts, was the guest speaker, and he proudly told us that the most popular beer at the University of Western Ontario was Labatt Crystal, which he said was just 50 with a different label. Nothing has changed.

  15. Labatt’s is trailing Molson in this hoax generation machinery…. Have you had Creemore since Molson killed the Stroh’s yeast and started pumping out their crap in Creemore cans and bottles? They have been marketing the “local brewery” nonsense for almost a decade since buying out Creemore. Blech.

    1. Fortunately for Molson, you’rs is an opinion shared by probably a fraction of a percent… Anyone familiar with Creemore knows that the Lager, Pils, Keller, and any of the newer release stuff (Hops & Bolts) as as authentic as the day it was first brewed. To be clear, you think availability in cans is a bad thing?

    2. The sale of Creemore to Molson was dependent on nothing changing. Not the water, not the hops, not the brewery in Creemore, not the staff.

      1. Creemore stopped using water from the local spring on the nearby Niagara escarpment quite soon after they were purchased – they started brewing it in one of the big plants far from Creemore … it now tastes *nothing* like it did when it was on its own

    1. It’s not irony, it’s because ShockTop has a completely different target in mind: consumers intimidated by craft beers because of their pretentiousness and complication.

      Craft drinkers like the complexity of their beers, the caché.
      Being inspired by craft versus going after craft are two very different things. I think Ben has sensationalized the issue rather well – when in fact the craft trade needs big breweries to bring the idea of craft to the masses [increase it’s demand in market] and big breweries need craft brewers to innovate and discover new recipes.

      It’s a symbiotic relationship that is influenced, but does not necessarily cannibalize. I’m with Dan on his comment above – this is a beer designed for the mass drinker. Stop wasting your time looking up fiscals and making big breweries out to be some monster conglomerates, and concentrate on your passion for spreading the good word about craft brews!

      1. No.

        Sorry. There are ways to do what you claim they are doing without being intentionally misleading. Molson has Rickards, which they sort of kind of use for “unique” beers, as well as The Beer Academy here in Toronto that is essentially making small batch craft beers. Labatt’s has previously, through Keiths, created “crafty” beer like the hop series.
        I’m no fan of big brewers generally, but none of these previous efforts to get crafty pretend to be something they are not–that is, they all have the name of the big brewery parent company on the bottle or can. By pretending Shock Top is a small brewer (or at least planning to, as this document suggests), Labatt is being intentionally misleading to consumers.

  16. I like Molson (Coors) Canadian, it’s my fallback, standby beer, much like Coke; and it goes well with suicide wings. And I love all that is truly craft beer. Shock Top? I have advised my better half to please make sure I never order that which is dreck ever again. Nothing wrong with the big guys, some of them get it right, Inbev/Ambev-AB, aside from Budweiser never has, never will – best to avoid like a plague.

  17. Shock Top has always been listed on the Labatt website. Doesn’t anyone check out what they are drinking ? If you were web savvy you wouldn’t have been so SHOCKED!

  18. Is this really that big of a surprise? After losing a portion of the market, the Larger Brands (AB-Inbev, Anheuser-Busch, etc) have started to fight back a little. They’ll have money to throw around, but they also have great facilities, and brewers who are extremely knowledgeable of their trade.

    Craft beer has never been about the size of the breweries. It’s been about the craft of beer. And that can be appreciated by all parties.

  19. I just bought a can of Shock Top Raspberry wheat, and can of Kawartha Lakes Brewery Raspberry Wheat. In a side by side taste test both me and my wife prefer the Shock Top. I ended up here because after reading the can I became suspicious that shock top was a beer from one of the international conglomerates masquerading as a craft beer, and I was right. But, I still prefer it (much to my disappointment) over a similar offering from my local craft brewery.

  20. They’re doing this because people like you stay away from their products solely because they are “macro” so they are trying to present the beer as is without overtly stating they are a macro brewer. They’re a company whose purpose is to make money and you are blaming them for trying to what they, and every other company, are supposed to do.

  21. How about you let people drink what they want, instead if raging against the evil establishment like a cranky teenager. If someone wants to drink molsonlabattbudcoors lite/lime/ice tea shit beer it’s their business, maybe relax. Because honestly, lots of craft beer is shit, over hopped double IPA garbage just to be different. Shock top, while a macro brew, is friggin tasty. And that’s all that matters

  22. I’m not going to apologize for liking Shock Top & the Honeycrisp apple flavor…and I can afford it.
    1$ pounders in my local Price Chopper grocery store.
    An asst. of beers and hard-cider beverages.
    Mix & match.
    A 6 of Nirvana at Brewery Ommegang’s nearby brewery store is almost $12. A twelve of a Saranac beer costs about $14.
    8 Shock Top pounders (equivalent to a 12 pack) is $8
    I don’t enjoy pricey beer all that much.

    1. After further review; the Shocktop has apparently affected my math skills!
      $9 buys 9 x 16 = 144 = 12 x 12
      I’ll continue drinking and report back with any further mental deterioration that presents itself!

  23. “flavoursome taste to drive Shock Top penetration with Experience Maximizers in the ‘Reward Myself’ need state.”

    Whoever wrote that deserves to be flayed alive for murdering the English languate.

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