The social media era may be coming to an end, but the residual marketing power that The Platforms™️ deliver to small businesses in general and beer brands in particular will likely stick around for awhile after normies deactivate their accounts and the extremely online depart for digital walled gardens. Which is why your humble Hop Take columnist likes Friday Beers’ odds.
Or I guess I should say, @almostfriday’s odds turning the success of @FridayBeers into Friday Beers, a new brand attempting to span the digital and analog divide wi— actually, you know what? Let’s back up a bit.
A couple years ago, reporting this feature for VinePair about how the then-booming hard seltzer segment was changing the cultural institution of the college kegger among America’s vaguely drinking-age youth, sources kept bringing up an Instagram account called @FridayBeers. The meme account is an outgrowth of @AlmostFriday, founded by the brother-preneur trio Jack, Max, and Sam Barrett in 2019.
That page’s stock-in-trade, like @FridayBeers and the other dozen-plus social media brands it has since spawned, is observational comedy about the life, times, and vices of America’s bros. Among other things, @FridayBeers is a tremendous exercise in world-building: If you’ve ever heard someone say “Commence suckdown” before necking a tallboy, or been baffled by a reference to someone called “Dooley,” you’ve touched the void the @FridayBeers universe in the wild. “Think about Barstool Sports,” says Ernest Wilkins, a Chicago-based writer and marketing director who “tracks the creator ecosystem.” “Now take that layer of scuzz, booze bloat, and Zyn pouch residue off, add a more… I don’t wanna say ‘safer’ veneer to it, [but] that’s the brand.”
The Barretts now operate this heady menagerie as Almost Friday Media (AFM), a digitally native production company that they say generates 800 million impressions a month. In lay terms, AFM makes videos, posts them to social media, and a shitload of people watch ‘em.
“The words ‘Friday Beers,’ in terms of what it represents on a cultural level, are far beyond the idea of drinking beer,” says Jack Barrett, AFM’s chief executive, in a recent phone call, describing the popularity of the brand and its ascendance with today’s vice-addled undergrads. “We just became this lifestyle brand.”
That isn’t noteworthy on face. One off-cited 2020 study by the market research firm SignalFire shows that more 50 million people worldwide consider themselves creators; this past spring, Goldman Sachs reported that 50 million people worked under the moniker. The bank’s analysts estimate the “total addressable market” (i.e., the overall opportunity) at $250 billion this year, and project it jumping to $480 billion by 2027, fueled by subscription fees, hoodie sales, and sponcon contracts. For comparison, the Brewers Association estimates the U.S. beer market is currently worth around $115 billion, and, as we often discuss, things are not exactly looking up at the moment.
Hopefully this all helps you grasp why investors put $6 million into AFM in 2022, why Hollywood’s powerful William Morris Endeavor agency now represents its talent, and why I’m writing a beer column about its new private-label beer.
While creators have been shaking up the ad landscape, cashing in on private-label goods, and even launching ghost restaurants, they’ve only begun to dip their toes into the beverage-alcohol industry. In 2022, I reported for VinePair on creators (née influencers) on the vanguard of the booze business, arguing that brands like Happy Dad (a hard seltzer line launched by the NELK Boys, a super-popular YouTube collective) represented an extremely lucrative new form of drinks marketing, wherein the brand, the production house, and the ad inventory are all owned by the same people.
Now, AFM is following in those footsteps. Having already executed marketing campaigns for New Belgium, Boston Beer Company, and Anheuser-Busch InBev, the company earlier this month launched Friday Beers, a light adjunct lager brewed by upstate New York’s venerable F.X. Matt Brewing Company.
The beer, which is currently only available in select Massachusetts markets and the company’s branded bar in Nashville (Almost Friday Sporting Club) “tastes insane,” promises Barrett.
“I knew we’re going to be selling the message [of the @FridayBeers’ brand], but if people bought it and they tried it and it tastes as good as Michelob Ultra tastes, or as Coors Light tastes, then there’s some real chance that it can stick around,” he says. At 120 calories to Michelob Ultra’s 95, it’s a bit heavy for its set, but Barrett is confident that @FridayBeers’ audience isn’t the type that minds. “The calories aren’t gonna matter for our drinker,” he says.
I haven’t tasted the beer, but after covering the industry for a dozen years, I think Barrett’s assessment is right on. Taste is table stakes, and nutritional profile matters to an extent, but marketing is where the magic happens in the beer business. AFM doesn’t “control the pipes” through which its media empire reaches all those eyeballs — those belong to Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. But it controls every other promotional lever that a beer company needs to succeed, from powerful branding expertise, to name-brand talent (ish; I have yet to meet another 35-year-old who knows who Rusty Featherstone is), to promotional channels that would otherwise cost third-party firms an arm and a leg.
(Yes, yes, distribution is key, too. But given the proof-positive of other creators’ incursions into the booze business over the past 18 months or so, and the expertise of Friday Beers’ joint-venture partner Jay Harman, Cisco Brewing Company’s founder and chief executive, the brand should find literal and figurative purchase in the middle tier.)
Speaking of those third-party brands: How do they feel about all this? After all, AFM’s Voodoo Ranger and Sam Adams campaigns feature prominently in marketing materials Barrett shared with Hop Take, and Bud Light and Natural Light are former clients, too. (Boston Beer Co. didn’t respond to a request for comment; a Voodoo Ranger spokesperson says the brand has “had [a] ton of fun with AFM as business partners over the past several months,” and hopes to “share the love and enjoy their new release someday soon too.”) Barrett says ABI had even initially approached the firm to license a beer in 2021, though the project fell apart in mid-2022 over the macrobrewer’s growing discomfort with the AFM brands’ content pertaining to binge drinking. He claims that at one point ABI requested he take down a post involving Will Ferrell’s funnel-toting “Frank the Tank” character from “Old School.” (When I asked ABI for comment, a spokesperson promised to “follow up,” but provided no response before deadline.)
In fairness to ABI — which has had a hell of a year where social media partnerships are concerned — a lot of the memes and original content that AFM’s brands publish toe the line between satire and celebration of substance use. (For example.) AFM says 77.6 percent of its audience is between 25 and 34, with just 6.2 percent at 18–21 and 0.1 percent below 17. That puts it safely above the Beer Institute’s ad code benchmark requirement that beer marketing can “only be [done] where the audience for the placement is expected to be at least 73.8 percent adults of legal drinking age.” Still, the strictures of selling alcohol are considerable compared to, say, bucket hats (which @FridayBeers also hawks), and earnest though he strikes me, Barrett is a little out of his depth on the difference.
“We’re following all of the… I’ll call them regulations.… We obviously have to learn more about it, but the way you market a beer… We started another Instagram account, @Drink.Friday.Beers, which is where we market beer through,” he says, stumbling a bit. This is probably a good idea. But that account’s bio features the brand’s #CommenceSuckdown slogan and no minimum age statement, plus some content chugging and shotgunning that’d give agida to a mid-size craft brewer’s general counsel, let alone a macrobrewer’s. None of this is out-of-bounds per se, but it’s not exactly risk-averse, either. Beer brands that plan to “stick around” hew to the latter standard.
Whether AFM can find a way to consistently market Friday Beers to its considerable legal-drinking-age audience without running afoul of industry watchdogs as it grows is, I think, an existential question — or the existential question. What else derails this brand? It’s already built! Sure, the regulatory pitfalls are there, and AFM has to get more sophisticated about them. But the upside is enormous, and Barrett insists he’s up for the challenge. “This only succeeds if we really fuel it to grow,” he says. I’m not betting against it.
🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now
According to coverage from Rochester First, a Tom McCorry of upstate New York has been arrested for “criminal impersonation” for sending threatening emails and letters that “were claimed to have been written by Investigator Richard Harder.” That a guy is allegedly doing crimes under the name Detective Dick Harder is weird as hell, but it would typically be well beyond our Hop-ocalyptic scope. Except: Beer Marketer’s Insights reported in its newsletter Wednesday that this Tom McCorry appears to be the same Tom McCorry who has worked for Constellation Brands for some two decades, and currently serves as the senior vice president of finance of the firm’s beer division. “Our team is working to understand more about this matter,” the firm, which is based in upstate NY, told BMI in a statement. Ditto.
The courts ruled that Boston Beer Co. didn’t do securities fraud by hyping Truly’s growth back in 2021 before it all went to sh*t… Per BeerBoard, the category did decently on Thanksgiving Eve (a.k.a. Blackout Wednesday), and that goes for beleaguered draft beer, too… Beer can now be delivered by third-party courier (DoorDash et al.) in New Jersey… Congrats to all the most popular beers in America, according to YouGov, I guess…
📉 …and downs
Georgia’s Pontoon Brewing alleged that Bevana’s supposedly symbiotic business model forced it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy… SouthState Bank sued Charlotte, N.C.’s D9 Brewing and Bevana’s parent company (Community Brewing Ventures), alleging breach of contract… Co-owners of Massachusetts hazy IPA juggernaut Tree House Brewing are facing a shareholder lawsuit over use of company funds… New Jersey’s governor issued a conditional veto on the state’s unanimously passed (!) brewery-reform bill, a procedural move he’d long signaled…