TRAVELOGUE: VFC’s unprecedented product release

A journey down the trail of beers…

Creatively promoting a product by tying it to a lifestyle.

Without promotion, something terrible happens… nothing!
– P. T. Barnum

New product releases come in all flavors, but Virtual Farm Creative (VFC) always attempts to nuance every possible bit of juice from the first squeeze because, face it, as soon the product hits the market it’s no longer new. The most successful launch campaigns possess an equal measure of creativity, reach and legs.

Our craft brewing client, Sly Fox Brewing Company, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, is as well known for their unique events as they are for their authentic representations of classic beer styles. They were the first craft brewery east of the Mississippi River to can their products—a decision that practically every competitor has emulated. They were also one of the first breweries in the United States to utilize the 360 lid that allows the entire beer can top to be removed, so that the can drinks like a glass. They produce quality products and are innovators and advocates for the craft beer drinker’s lifestyle.

SRT AleAll of those facts promoted the development of a low-alcohol, high-flavor session-beer targeting consumers with active, outdoor interests. The product development phase of Sly Fox Brewing Company’s most recent release went through multiple iterations until the clever idea to name the beer SRT Ale, after the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT), became reality.

The trail is less than a mile from the brewery and one of the trail’s best advocates—the Schuylkill River Heritage Area (SRHA) is headquartered at that nearby trailhead. SRT Ale is designed for trail users while it advocates for the trail’s mission…a portion of the proceeds of SRT Ale are even donated to the SRHA, but most importantly, the release of this brand ties together a lifestyle, a product, and a resource with positive content that can creatively contribute to the promotion.

The collaborative concept for SRT Ale’s official release was, by design, embracing the outdoor lifestyle—a pair of adventurers would travel the length of the 130-mile Schuylkill River Trail, stopping along the way to release the beer at trailside pubs, bars and beer events. Each day on the six-day journey included a trailhead cleanup organized by SRHA and with manpower supplied by the organization’s volunteers. This immediately provided credibility to the promotional mission and a sense of purpose beyond the product release.

The release itself was ambitious with a pre-planned itinerary that included travel by kayak, bicycle, on foot and on horseback! SRT Ale was not available in local markets until the team had traveled to that point. Starting in the northern most point of the SRT in Pottsville and traveling to Philadelphia, SRT Ale became available in the City of Brotherly love on Earth Day. The week-long event also included several parties, two 5K races, and a ride through a packed beer festival where the advance team had worked the crowd into a lather in anticipation of a tapping of a keg of SRT Ale.

SRT Spree

This promotion included a lot of moving parts and complexities indicative of a multi-day, multi-location event. It was successful because it was well-organized from the onset and all of the key members executed with excellence. A press effort and robust social media campaign pre-promoted the actual trip, which we named the SRT Spree, while live posts during the trip kept the public informed on the status of the launch.

The rhyming name for the beer and a compelling packaging design helped to create meaningful and memorable content, while the SRT Spree was an unprecedented approach more similar to the Pony Express, Lewis and Clark, or the Olympic Torch journey than usual new beer releases. People became interested in the unique nature of the SRT Spree and the public was encouraged to join in any leg of the journey (we publicized each trip segment with GPX coordinates as heavily as we did trail cleanups and release tappings).

The sheer number of actual Sly Fox Brewing Company fans and new consumers was an added benefit to this campaign but, when you add in all of the cleanup volunteers and the attendees at the parties, beer festival and 5Ks, many hundreds of core targets were reached. That number certainly aggregated throughout the cycling, kayaking, running and horseback-riding communities as news traveled that the Brewery that cares about those activities had developed a specific product for them—one that all could enjoy, and it was named in tribute to the region’s best place to partake in them.

We’ve learned that obsessive kayakers and obsessive cyclists are two distinctly different market segments with major discernible differences and one major similarity—they both appreciate good beer. Word of the SRT Spree quickly spread throughout both communities and there was measurable appreciation for our endeavor to promote the product using their beloved sports.

A week long, active and traveling promotion automatically provided a longer lasting platform than a single-day event, but the combination of the pre-promotion, all of the people involved in the SRT Spree and post event publicity, created an organic campaign with legs. A managed social media component including scheduled content, live posts and a support team focused on engagement created conversations and conversions.

SRT Spree

The SRT Spree was an unprecedented product release campaign where VFC not only conceptualized the approach, wrote the creative brief, developed the content, designed the theme and planned the promotion, but we were active participants for the entire journey—from collaborating on the itinerary to offering support. This vantage point allowed us to understand how the client brand and the product were perceived and experienced across demographic and geographic regions.

The SRT Spree—comprised of a Sly Fox Brewing Company salesperson and VFC’s creative director–was well-planned down to the last foot and minute. We were supported by an outfitter, Take It Outdoors Adventures and a Sly Fox event coordinator who traveled with beer, banners, tents and swag. The two-man SRT Spree team carried symbolic, custom made flags—like Olympic torches—at all times, representing the advancement of the beer as the journey traveled south.

The pace was not aggressive and there was plenty of time to evangelize for the brand, the trail and the mission, but the itinerary was a well-organized carefully planned and coordinated effort to showcase the wide variety of ways the trail can be utilized and the wide variety of ways that beer can be enjoyed after outdoor activities.

On Thursday, April 16, the SRT Spree started out at the Sly Fox Brewery in Pottstown, PA, and traveled that same night to Schuylkill County with a release party at Pottsville’s most beloved bar, Hucklebucks.

DAY 1:
The following morning we kayaked from Schuylkill Haven to Port Clinton with a trail cleanup there and a release party at the Port Clinton Hotel.

DAY 2:
The next morning we biked from Port Clinton to the Kernsville Dam where there was a trail cleanup. From there we kayaked to Muhlenberg where we landed at 2:30pm. A 2000+ person beer festival was taking place in Reading’s Santander Arena and the advance team had the crowd anticipating the SRT Spree’s arrival at 3:30pm. We quickly pitched tents, changed into cycling kits and sped through the town of Reading where we pedaled into the festival to cheers. Another tapping at the Canal Street Pub in Reading followed.

DAY 3:
The next morning we cycled from Canal Street to a tapping at Trooper Thorns and from there biked to Fork & Ale in Douglasville where there was a massive trail restoration underway as part of the SRT Spree. We rode horses from that point to Pottstown’s Riverfront Park, home of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area.

DAY 4:
On Monday, April 20, the SRT Spree kayaked from Riverfront Park to the Railroad Street Bar in Linfield for a lunchtime tapping then traveled on to Lock 60 in Mont Clare, just across the river from Phoenixville. Trail cleanup at Lock 60 was followed by a big release party that showcased the brewery’s new draft trailer and featured a 5K run and the band Whiskeyhickon Boys, who played late into the night.

DAY 5:
On Tuesday we biked from Lock 60 to the Conshohocken Brewery, right on the Schuylkill River Trail, where we exchanged beers then pedaled on to Manayunk’s Beast and Ale and Le Bus and the day finished with a tapping party at In Riva in East Falls where we camped on the deck.

DAY 6:
On Earth Day, April 22, a release brunch at London Grill was followed by a large scale cleanup at Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Banks Park and another 5K race.

The day and the event culminated with a release party and band at World Cafe Live where we thanked supporters and encouraged people to drink SRT Ale because it supports the Schuylkill River Trail. Not only did the SRT Spree advocate for the trail by paying tribute and advocating for its use and care, but a portion of the proceeds from each case is donated to the Schuylkill River Heritage Area.

We were joined by sponsors like Bikesport, loyal fans of the brand, outdoors people who had never heard of Sly Fox, people who were curious to try the beer, people who loved the trail and people who didn’t even drink beer every paddle, pedal and step of the way.

VFC traveled with our client—like driven missionaries—along the length of the entire Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) to deliver SRT Ale, meet new friends and advocate and improve the region’s best water and land trail that follows the hidden, Schuylkill River. It was the kind of promotional effort we adore—unique and memorable, creative with broad reach and sustained longevity.

The objective of the campaign was to roll-out a product that supported a trail, but the effort achieved so much more. The SRT Spree successfully evangelized for multiple brands which showcased a commitment to much more than simply selling product.