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Beyond the Local: Places, People, and Brands in New England Beer Marketing

Sun, August 13, 2:30 to 4:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 512F


Recent years have seen dramatic growth and expansion of small, microbreweries across the American landscape. Such growth is surprising given the American beer market has, for decades, been dominated by a mere handful of wealthy, large-scale firms. The appeal that microbreweries hold for consumers may in part help to explain their rapid growth, and thus has been the subject of considerable scholarly debate. Researchers have proposed numerous characterizations of this allure, including claims that microbreweries appeal to consumers’ desire for local attachment, human contact, authenticity, self-expression, and social status. However, no study to date has compared these competing explanations nor examined whether these appeals are in fact unique to microbreweries. This study attempts to fill the gap in our understanding through a content analysis of beer branding strategies. It examines and compares the marketing of product packaging within and across three scales of breweries: large, regional, and micro. The preliminary results suggest that while local attachment remains strong, it is not unique or even the dominant mode among microbreweries. Other strategies—especially authenticity branding—are at least equally important and are more unique to these smallest of firms. The results further indicate that large breweries use a form of reflexive branding that allows them to appeal to a broader audience while disallowing more intimate approaches. These findings contribute to an understanding of the microbrew revolution, but also to broader topics of social concern including neo-localism, the nature of place appeal, and related motivational fields of study.


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