There are a multitude of competitions that celebrate exceptionally made craft beer. Until this year, however, there was no national awards program recognizing the people who work to promote the beers and the breweries that make them.
Veteran craft-beer marketers Jim McCune and Jackie DiBella aimed to change that by creating the Craft Beer Marketing Awards. Although plans to host the inaugural event in San Antonio, Texas, during the 2020 Craft Brewers Conference were curtailed by COVID-19, a virtual ceremony took place this past June and saw a strong response. The competition received a broad range of entries from breweries of every size and from nearly every state.
“Crushie” awards, designed by the same firm behind the iconic Emmy Award trophy and MTV’s Moonman statue, were awarded in 32 categories. Individual categories recognized exceptional work in branding, packaging design, logos, taprooms, tap handles, merchandise, point-of-sale promotions, websites, photography, videos, and “everything that your blood, sweat, and tears goes into outside of the liquid,” DiBella said during the ceremony.
The Craft Beer Marketing Awards will expand in 2021 to accept entries globally, as well as add categories related to hard seltzer, hard cider, and even pandemic-related marketing.
“People really want to celebrate their creative team, which can include a marketing agency, an illustrator, someone in branding, or their merchandise people,” McCune says. “There are so many tentacles to what builds a beer brand.”
With craft beer accounting for $29.3 billion in retail sales in 2019—and with overall market share continuing to increase, according to the Brewers Association—the competition for shelf space, consumer attention, and the need for breweries to differentiate their brand has never been stronger.
“Every brewery is recognizing how important branding, and especially labels, are to selling the beers,” DiBella says. “If you’re looking at shelves with hundreds of beers on them, how is someone going to choose if they’re not brand loyal? They’re going to go through and choose a cool can. We definitely saw that creativity come through [in the competition].”
While creativity and unique expression is a hallmark of craft-beer marketing, the competition’s judges—more than 100 representatives from all aspects of the industry—also considered how entries fit within each brand’s overall identity.
“Bonus points were definitely awarded if [the package] stood out as a unique branding piece that also told their story,” DiBella says.
For example, one of her favorite entries, submitted by Nostalgia Brewing Company in Gahanna, Ohio, was a flight board constructed from Tinkertoys. Harkening back to childhood and evoking nostalgia for days past was a trend judges noticed in many entries, DiBella says.
“Another cool thing we saw is how small breweries are able to compete against large breweries and, in many cases, win,” McCune says. “That just goes to show that authenticity in branding—staying true and knowing your client and connecting with customers—is what stands out in a lot of cases.”
A gallery of winners and entry information, with an awards ceremony scheduled during the 2021 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, can be found at craftbeermarketingawards.com.