Nostalgic Labels keep the Suds Flowing

July 1, 2004
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Nostalgic Labels keep the Suds Flowing

by Robert McMath
Helmar Brewing steps up to the plate in the beer aisle with a line of baseball-legend brews that appeal to sports collectors.
The U.S. beer market is crowded and competitive. This is more evident than ever as Anheuser Busch and Miller Brewing take swipes at each other in television commercials.
But room still exists in this category for an upstart marketer to succeed with the right brand strategy.
Such is the case with Helmar Brewing, Pleasant Ridge, Mich. The small brewer launched Big League Brew last fall. The packaging features vintage images of baseball legends from the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Watercolor-like images of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Jimmie Foxx and other past baseball stars grace labels, “crowns” (metal caps) and paperboard carriers.
The marketing strategy centers on baseball, baseball players and memorabilia. Although the company says that it’s in the beer business and not in the collectibles business, many of its customers are sports memorabilia collectors.
Helmar Brewing is the brainchild of Charles Mandel, whose background includes sports memorabilia. The brewer draws its name from Helmar Tobacco Co., which included “stamps” of baseball players in its cigarette packs in the early 1900s. Mandel chose the name as a “nod to the masters of the past.”
The company has been about two years in the making. Mandel spent considerable time contacting the baseball greats and their heirs to obtain the rights to use the players’ name and likeness on the bottles, bottle caps and other items.
Meanwhile, Mandel sought a contract brewer to make and bottle his pre-prohibition-style ale.
The beer that Ruth built
Because Babe Ruth is synonymous with baseball lore and glory, Mandel sought the rights to use “the Babe’s” name and picture from his family.
It took some hard negotiating, and more time than he thought it would to get them to agree to the licensing arrangement. But when they accepted his offer, other players and their heirs fell into line and were eager to appear on the packaging.
Requests to appear on the brand’s packaging have come from as far away as Japan. Most Americans know that the Japanese are very keen on baseball in their country. This creates an export market opportunity for Helmar Brewing, which recently signed a distributor in Japan.
Other countries whose populace follows baseball past and present also represent an export market. This includes Caribbean and Latin American nations.
In addition to packaging, Helmar Brewing is developing other forms of collectibles such as reproductions of old baseball posters and players’ images on towels, T-shirts and other apparel.
Some of the collectibles have sold in auctions on the Internet. A single bottle cap bearing an image of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson recently sold on eBay for nearly $28.
How successful will this new beer brand be? How long will it endure? The odds seem to be in its favor. Americans have been drinking beer while watching (and even playing) our national pastime for more than a century.
The author, Robert McMath, has been a marketing consultant for more than 30 years. Through his NewProductWorks, he has advised major companies. He is the author of What Were They Thinking, a book chronicling the whys of product successes and failures. Contact him at 607.582.6215 or rmcmath@cs.com, or visit www.NewProductWorks.com

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