The Art of Branding a Beer Can

Once upon a time, before the internet, writers wrote novels, short stories, films, plays, TV shows… They might have worked day jobs; William S. Burrows was an exterminator, Arthur Conan Doyle was a surgeon, and Jack Kerouac was a dishwasher. But they didn’t write blog posts.

They might have churned out pulpy hits, like Philip K. Dick. At his peak he wrote sixty pages of fiction per day. But they weren’t content marketers.

But then there’s Hunter S. Thompson, a journalist, author, thinker, and copywriter. The last one seems out of place, right? He wrote outstanding works of fiction, non fiction, essays, and… branded content. Still doesn’t sit easily?

HERE’S THE STORY.

HunterSThompson

Thompson lived down the road from Flying Dog founder, George Stranahan. They became close friends bonding over a shared love of explosives, guns, politics, and beer.

Hunter wound up writing copy for Flying Dog. He wrote an essay when the company first launched, and he coined slogans too.

Here’s what he wrote:

Ale has long been the drink of thugs, convicts, rowdies, rakes and other depraved outlaws who thrive on the quick bursts of night-energy that ale brings. In the 17th century England gangs of ale-crazed fops would often fight to the death in all-night brawls on public greenswards, which terrified the citizenry and left many of the infamous “youngblood horsemen” chopped up with grievous sword and dagger wounds… These were the Wild Boys of Olde English story and song, rich sots on horseback who amused themselves in London by riding out at night, ripped to the tits on strong ale, and “popped old ladies into empty booze-barrels and rolled them down steep, cobblestone hills with crazy screams and shouts.” If you must roll old ladies down hills and you don’t want to pay the bills, try to be nice and lick off their lice with a powerful road dog ale.

How many companies can say that the outlaw Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote for them?

For a certain kind of beer drinker, Hunter’s validation of Flying Dog means a lot.

THOMPSON AND INFLUENCER MARKETING

He was one of early adopters of influencer marketing. His brand, his name, and its weight added credence to the emerging beer company.

Now in an age of hipsters and nostalgia, Flying Dog’s partnership with Hunter and Ralph Steadman whose artwork adorns their products, seems savvy. Their website is littered with typewriters and other artefacts associated with Thompson’s life. Their identity, and his, are interchangeable. The copy on the Flying Dog website uses Hunter’s tone of voice and the font itself is lifted straight from the page of an old typewriter. Flying Dog ape Hunter’s style, and it gives their brand a unique identity in the process.

Hunter even wrote a toast to go along with a cold Flying Dog IPA:

There is an ancient Celtic axiom that says “Good People Drink Good Beer.” Which is true, then as now. Just look around you in any public barroom and you will quickly see: Bad People Drink Bad Beer. Think about it.

FLYING DOG’S AURA

The right person, with the right sort of eyes, gazing at a Flying Dog bottle will know what the brand’s aura means. It speaks of writerly worlds, of insanity and madness in the sixties, and it reminds us that great art can exist on the side of a beer can.

The people you surround yourself with matter. Their voices come to define your identity. For a brand, it’s important to pick the right ambassadors and the right people to speak for you.

Hunter’s work with Flying Dog reminds me of something he said in Hell’s Angels:

The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.

The edge is the tipping point. It’s the place you realise exists only after you’ve past it. What does that mean for content marketing? For copywriting? For branding?

AUTHENTIC CONTENT MARKETING

I think it speaks of authenticity. The stuff that defines a brand should come from a place of honesty. It’s not about advertising. It’s about building an aura, something intangible that holds meaning for the right people.

Hunter didn’t care about branding. He loved Flying Dog’s beer. And so he told everyone. That’s the heart of great branding. That’s the goal that every business should have for its products. To create something that resonates, something that lasts, something that matters and to share it with the people who will love it too.

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