Image - MarlboroBlenheim’s award winning Moa Brewery was forced to ditch a controversial marketing campaign within three days after a backlash on social media. On 3 October, the brewery announced they were launching a Helles Rauchbier (smoked lager).

Moa described the beer as “malt driven, this beer has subtle smoke characters from Beech Smoked Malt complemented by a balanced malt sweetness.” It is a challenging style of beer – not many drinkers expect to find smoky notes in a golden lager – but that was not what caused the problem.

The name and point of sale marketing materials (pictured above) were clearly derived from the packaging of Marlboro cigarettes. Owner Geoff Ross said Moa linking the new product to Marlboro’s classic brand and hugely successful “Marlboro Country” campaign was designed associate the smokiness (Marlboro) of the beer to the region in which it was brewed (Marlborough).

On-line reaction was swift with Twitter users saying “get a conscience”, “thought tobacco advertising was more than just immoral but also illegal”, “shame on you” and “the most recent Moa beer I purchased will be my last… using cigs to promote your beer is pathetic.” There were similar outpourings on Facebook and in the blogosphere. As one Twitter user noted “well, that escalated quickly!”

Just three days later Moa backed down. Ross said his Twitter picture was simply testing a marketing idea publicly and, after taking on board people’s input, they would not be using the cigarette-themed publicity materials. Moa says those materials had not even been made. This episode is an example of the power of social media today. However, it should be noted that the beer is still being sold as Marlboro from Marlborough – only the marketing will change.

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