Grey Canada Gets ‘Brutally Honest’ for Mill Street Beer

By Erik Oster 

Grey Canada launched a new, minimalist campaign for Mill Street, the Toronto brewery founded in 2002 and purchased by A-B InBev-owned Labatt Brewing Company last year.

The campaign takes the sarcastic, advertising-mocking approach to the extreme with radio ads which make light of the way other brands market their beers. In “True Story,” brewmaster Joel (actual brewmaster Joel Manning) tells the story of how Mill Street’s 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager came to be: he suggested at a meeting that they brew it, everyone liked the idea, and so they did.

Cool story, bro. The implicit argument behind the approach, of course, is they don’t need slick marketing tactics to sell the beer, because the quality of the brew sells itself.

Another spot, “In Pack,” sees Joel responding with some animosity when a promo agency (supposedly) suggested they include a neon bandana as an “in pack” incentive with Mill Street’s summer sampler. “Focus Group,” meanwhile, sees Joel functioning as the sole member of a focus group for the brewery’s new West Coast IPA. (He thought it was really good.)

Print ads take a similar approach, with messages like “A minute more making this ad is a minute less spent making the beer.” That’s not exactly true, of course, since Grey is the one making the ads, but the approach is part of cultivating Mill Street’s image as a small craft brand, despite its status as a member of the A-B InBev roster.

While it’s nice to see an actual brewer get the nod in the radio ads, it’s sort of funny to think of Mill Street’s marketing team and Grey hard at work coming up with a strategy for the brand and arriving at the idea of making it seem like they didn’t spend any time thinking about the brand’s marketing at all — followed by a design team painstakingly deciding which font looks most like they didn’t spend any time on the print ads. The approach also sees an A-B InBev owned brand (through Labatt) mocking the kind of advertising gimmicks of its parent companies — sort of the opposite of Budweiser’s craft-mocking Super Bowl advertising despite A-B InBev’s continued pursuit of craft breweries.


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