CMO Series – Athletic Brewing

David Sonn
David Sonn President

Athletic Brewing – CMO Series Event

David Sonn attended the Philly Ad Club’s CMO Series on June 11th 2024, featuring Andrew Katz.

Background on Athletic Brewing:

Athletic Brewing, based in Milford, CT, is the top producer of craft, nonalcoholic beer. They sell through stores, distributors, and directly to consumers (DTC). They brew approximately 150 beers throughout the year, often collaborating with influencers and creating specialty brews for important events and missions.

I tried the IPA and Hazy IPA, and they tasted good. With only 65 calories, you don’t feel full. This alternative offers a lot of benefits. – David Sonn

Their primary audience includes athletes and people on the go, but their products are suitable for any audience segment, providing an alternative for social events where alcohol isn’t needed. You can drink it anytime, anywhere.

They are a B Corp, adhering to environmentally friendly processes and mandates. The company is extremely mission-driven and offers Paid Volunteer Time Off (PVTO), similar to Arc. Learn more about their values.

When choosing partnerships, collaborations, vendors, and sponsorships, they only do business with others who are also committed to doing good.

Andrew Katz:

Andrew Katz is the CMO of Athletic Brewing and was the speaker last night. He grew up in Lower Merion and loves Philly, even though he no longer lives here. Earlier in the day, he spoke at St. Joe’s University at a Food and Beverage Summit.

Andrew’s View on Brand and Approach for Athletic:

For Athletic, it starts with good values and being good corporate citizens. Transparency is really important. The brand is based on the simple yet lofty mission: “Change the way people drink.”

The name is intentionally simple—easy to say, shout out, and remember, conveying a healthier connotation.

When Andrew was brought in to handle all marketing and branding, the nonalcoholic category was growing by 33%, with Athletic growing by 77%. He determined that roughly 25% of people knew of the brand, so they needed a very introductory ad. The ad provided two things: education about when beer occasions don’t need alcohol and to convey the realness of the mission and the company. It needed to touch on the emotion that this is an entity easy to root for.

His idea was to create a TV spot featuring the two founders to simply tell the story. They showed the 30-second spot at the event.

This year, their marketing is evolving from education and introduction to a new campaign, “Just ask for it.” As people become more familiar with the brand, the premise is to simply ask for “Athletic.” This campaign also leans into the people who are “local centers of influence”—bartenders, wait staff, store workers. These people know best. Here’s the spot produced for this campaign: Watch the campaign video.

Marketing They Do:

They don’t do focus groups but rather live tastings, which provide great, direct feedback and often gain customers. The challenge is that it’s not scalable, so they are looking for ways and partners to improve and expand this approach.

They have done and will repeat this promotion: “Ask for Athletic Day – Ask for an Athletic, and the first one is free.”

They invest heavily in CTV and OTT, which are among their biggest spends. They love doing Spotify spots as it hits their audience perfectly. I asked about SEO, which Andrew said is handled by their agency managing all content and digital. I also asked if they used paid search, and he said they do, primarily to promote DTC and locations to buy, but the spend is far less than other channels.

They lean heavily into influencers, particularly those already fans of the product, such as athletes, musicians, and food industry professionals. They did a collaboration beer with Walker Hayes.

Andrew’s View and Use of AI:

Andrew believes that no one has figured it out yet and that “doing AI for AI is stupid.” It should always start with identifying the problem you are trying to solve. The technology comes second and only if it actually helps solve the problem.

They use AI to ideate, as a starting point but never an endpoint. They also use AI for data analysis and to better present data and findings in presentations. They make data-driven decisions, and AI helps parse through the data more easily.

Advice to Agencies Wanting to Work with Athletic:

They evaluate the cost of sending out work versus hiring people. They do a lot of creative work in-house but use agencies for some tasks. All social media is managed in-house. They outsource much of the digital, video production, and content work to their agency of record. His advice is to demonstrate genuine interest and intent before approaching them. Do deep research, as it’s easy to interact with people.

Note: a special thank you to Cynthia Weiss, Executive Director of the Philly Ad Club, for putting on another great event.