Actress Anna Kendrick was 28 years old, beautiful, and pissed. “I’ll just give you an endorsement right now,” she huffs. “Hi, um, Newcastle Brown Ale—the only beer that promised me a high-paying role in a Super Bowl commercial and then backed out at the last fucking second like a bunch of dicks.”
She exhales, glowers at the camera, then tells Newcastle to “Suck it.”
Not exactly the sort of Super Bowl ad you’d expect from a brewer. Kendrick’s rich, prodigious cursing got bleeped, as did every “Super Bowl” and “Big Game.” In fact, the whole ad, a two-and-a-half minute tour de force produced by Droga5, was a complete sham.
Newcastle Brown Ale didn’t have the budget to get anywhere close to a Super Bowl buy. It did, however, have Quinn Kilbury.
The ad is but one example of the in-your-face, no-apologies marketing approach that Newcastle has adopted under Kilbury’s leadership. Kendrick’s spoof—part of a two-week, all-digital push dubbed “If We Made It”—appeared five days before the game and wound up getting 5.2 million views.
Fake Super Bowl ads have been done before, but Kilbury’s smashing of the game’s hoary ad clichés included not only Kendrick’s postmortem but also a bogus storyboard for a potential Super Bowl spot that exploited virtually every trope, including babes in bikinis and cats—cats on skateboards, actually.
“We’re not competing with Anheuser-Busch—we’re competing with Justin Bieber and cute kittens,” says Kilbury, who believes that effective marketing takes more than just being funny. “It has got to be interesting and compelling, like you have to click on this versus clicking on the cute kitten.”
Green lighting all this self-immolating work was Kilbury’s contribution to Newcastle’s strategy of skewering beer marketing conventions, signaled by the debut of the “No Bollocks” (Britspeak for “no bullshit”) tagline in 2012. According to senior director of portfolio brands Charles van Es, what Kilbury brought to the mix is fingerspitzengefühl, a German term for “finger-tip feeling” for a job. Casting Kendrick is a prime example. “She had a lot of interesting projects coming out,” says van Es. “But also, her tone of voice is so 100 percent the brand, That’s fingerspitzengefühl. That’s really exceptionally good marketing.” The faux Super Bowl push included 15 videos, a Reddit ad and a fake native ad on Gawker—content that stands out even amid the firehose of entertainment on the Web.
Newcastle followed the Super Bowl smash with an online push in July that skewered another American tradition: Independence Day. Lambasting other beer brands for co-opting the holiday just to sell more beer, Newcastle created a whole new holiday called “Independence Eve,” pushing out more videos that cheekily suggested America would be better off if England had won the Revolutionary War.
While Newcastle, which Heineken added to its stable of brands in 2008, has yet to enjoy major growth in store sales, Kilbury’s efforts did boost the brand’s trial rate from 60 percent to 72 percent between December 2013 and July of this year. And, the buzz around Newcastle’s all-digital efforts has helped the brand expand its distribution and improve store placement, according to Kilbury.
Droga5 CCO Ted Royer gives much of the credit to Kilbury, who he describes as candid, challenging and enthusiastic. As Royer puts it: “He’s the right mix of honesty, ambition and fun.” In short, a buddy you can share a beer with—and a laugh.
View the Brand Genius winner class of 2014:
Paul Crandell, GoPro | Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle | Michelle N. Fernandez, Canon USA | Camille M. Gibson, General Mills | Trudy Hardy, BMW of North America | Matt Jauchius, Nationwide | Quinn Kilbury, Newcastle Brown Ale | David Melançon, Benjamin Moore & Co. | Shane Smith, Vice | Dana White, UFC