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What would the Redhook dude do?

Seattle's original craft beer rides a hip ad campaign that targets the young and male - just like the macrobrews - and says volumes about how much and how little our culture has changed.

Is this any way to sell a craft beer?

Is this any way to sell a craft beer? Frank Unlimited

Good buddy Redhook...

Good buddy Redhook... Frank Unlimited

...and party animal Redhook.

...and party animal Redhook. Eric Scigliano

A different sort of beer-brand mascot, back in the '70s. More than ten thousand people supposedly showed up to run with the Rainiers in Pioneer Square.

A different sort of beer-brand mascot, back in the '70s. More than ten thousand people supposedly showed up to run with the Rainiers in Pioneer Square. RockPaperInk

Gordon Bowker (on right) with Redhook president Paul Shipman and brewmaster Charley McElevey in the offending Weekly article.

Gordon Bowker (on right) with Redhook president Paul Shipman and brewmaster Charley McElevey in the offending Weekly article. The (Seattle) Weekly, Aug. 11, 1982. Photo by Dan Lamont.

How far have we traveled since that bright day 30 years ago when Redhook Ale emerged from a former transmission shop in Ballard as Seattle’s and one of America’s first craft beers? I realized just how far as I was rolling down Aurora Avenue a few months ago. The answer was written on the wall — or, to be more precise, on a billboard, which revealed not just how much the craft beer industry had changed, but the whole damn culture. In fact, it's gone full circle.

That billboard showed three stubby beer bottles, elongated versions of the humble shorties that Pabst Blue Ribbon came in back when it was called Paddy Blue rather than PBR. They bore an unexpected label, and were accompanied by an even more unexpected message: “Redhook’s ok with you staring at his new package.” I did a doubletake

This ad is one in a series by the cheeky Seattle agency Frank unlimited, centered around a dude named Redhook who, in his first ad incarnation, circa 2008-2009, was “the loyal buddy who always has your back.” As in “Redhook will always confirm your alibi,” “Redhook would never move your favorite team to Oklahoma,” and “Redhook would never sleep with your ex. Even if you gave him permission.” An online contest solicited more answers to the question “What Would Redhook Do?” This concept, dubbed the “Liquid Goodness” campaign, built on a focus-group finding that folks saw Redhook Ale as “reliable” and “consistent.”

This message and those that have followed are reinforced in a Redhook Blog sharing the dude’s thoughts on matters ranging from action movies, same-sex marriage, and rabid Sounders fans (he’s fashionably for ’em) to the OKC Thunder, a.k.a. “Zombie Sonics” (agin’ for ’em). Although it’s written in the third person, which undercuts the blog effect and makes Mr. Redhook sound like Bob Dole and other politicians who talk about themselves by name.

But reliability can only take a product so far. As Forrest Healy, Frank Unlimited’s creative director, says, “the complement of ‘reliability’ is ‘She’s got a good personality.’” Reliable Redhook was a Volvo, not a Porsche — your father’s microbrew. Healy and his client and colleagues wanted to inject more pizzazz, as they used to say in the ad biz, or ’tude as they say now.

So Redhook stopped being the designated driver and started getting his own funk on. That’s led to such taglines as "Redhook isn't the type to use 'party' as a verb. This year he'll make an exception," "Redhook looks forward to the whole spanking thing on his birthday,” and, coinciding with the actual 30th birthday, “Redhook hears ‘bow chicka wow wow’ when someone says ‘chick flick.’” And of course that package thing. Good buddy Redhook has become a party animal. A laddy, as the Brits say. To paraphrase another ad slogan, what kind of beer reads Maxim?

All this is deeply weird in several ways — starting with the fact that Redhook is being advertised at all.

In the beginning, it and the craft/microbrewing movement were all about subverting the prevailing taste-Lite, advertising-heavy industry paradigm: uniform lagers battling for market share on billboards, TV screens, and Superbowl spots, typically with scenes of male bonding.

Redhook wouldn’t have any of that, and didn’t have the money to compete if it wanted to. But it still launched with a PR splash: Seattle’s mayor, King County’s executive and all the TV stations turned out for its opening party at the Jake O’Shaughnessey’s bar in the since-demolished Hansen Baking Company building.

I lauded the “savvy marketing” behind that launch in an article in the Seattle Weekly (then known as The Weekly). Redhook’s creator, Gordon Bowker, took it askance. What marketing? he asked. We don’t buy any advertising. (Disclosure: Bowker’s also a longtime friend of Crosscut and its founder.)

I guess I should have said “publicity” instead of marketing, but Gordon also sees it a bit differently now. “Maybe that is, or was, the smartest marketing — that we wouldn’t buy any advertising but would get people to talk about it.”


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Oct 18, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

OMG! Does Shipman have a goatee in that picture?? Funny, I just did a post on Facebook about Grant's of 30 years ago, and how I miss their Imperial Russian Stout and Scottish Ale. To paraphrase the slogan Bert Grant adopted from a brewpub in the UK, "Blessings of the heart, he brewed good ale."
I figured that Red Hook stopped using long-necks for the same reason that Heidelberg became the NW's first bottler of stubbies: harder to use as a weapon in a bar fight.
The Rainier ads were right up there with "Tiny! What're you gonna do to people who don't buy your Vino Keeno?", and Tiny Freeman would furl his giant fist....them were the days, when we could drink swill like the original Red Hook, and tolerate it since it was new...and it's been 1 year and 1 month since the death of The Buckaroo.

Posted Thu, Oct 18, 5:01 p.m. Inappropriate

That ash heap would be the Pabst Brewing Company, which also owns Rainier, Olympia and several other formerly regional brands. It all comes out of the same spigot in Inglewood, CA as the gawdawful Pabst Blue Ribbon. : P

orino

Posted Fri, Oct 19, 6:55 a.m. Inappropriate

So, "Redhook" is supposed to be some kind of person? I guess those ads referring to their beer as "him" make sense now -- kinda. Breweries are persons! I don't really think of Redhook as a craft brewery anymore. I remember the first time I tried Ballard Bitter it was a revelation. Now it's gone because "People outside the Puget Sound area don't get the joke." Yeah, well, let 'em learn. Personally, I look forward to this time of year for two reasons: Snow Cap and Wassail Ale. Winterhook might as well be a flavor of Michelob.

dbreneman

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