​Blurring Art & Advertising is How South Africa’s Shipwrecked​ Built Brand

International Insights is a continuing series of Q&As with brewing members, but this time branching outside of the US and into the rest of the world.In this series, Brewer will share personal insights from international breweries periodically about the craft beer market in other countries, where those brewers get their inspiration, and how the market compares to craft beer in the US.

Paul Mowat, ​owner/founder​/marketing ​manager​/brewer​/delivery ​guy, Shipwreck Brewery — Kommetjie, South Africa​

Shipwreck Brewery is a contract brewer​ and founder Paul Mowat​ brews​ at a brewery about ​three kilometers from ​his ​home​ with Valley Brewery in Cape Town.​
​”​I have been going commercially for just over ​three​ years since another Cape Town brewery asked me to come and brew a batch with them based on a home brew I had dropped with them (Dark Side Stout)​,” Mowat tells Brewer. ​”​We split the batch and I sold my half in kegs to a local restaurant whose owner also loved the beer. I moved to brewing at my current location shortly after when I was confident I could shift the beer fast enough to avoid having old beer (600L minimum batch size).​”

Mowat says his business strategy is to self distribute and stay hyper​-​local, ​with the furthest outlet ​being just​ 11.5 km away​ (about seven miles)​.
​”​I have focussed on selling kegs as the margins are super tight on bottles or cans and the environmental impact of kegs is so much less​,” he said. ​”​South African Breweries (SAB) sells beer cheaper than I can buy an empty bottle, label and cap.​”

Mowat and his wife had the opportunity to take over the restaurant that was the initial outlet in Aug​ust,​ 2019​, called The Green Room and the bulk of sales are through there​.

“It’s basically our ​t​ap​r​oom​,” Mowat said​.

The image that everyone associates with the brewery is the White Rabbit, not the Shipwreck logo.”Most marketers tell me it is a wrong move, but it works,” Mowat said. “Most of our advertising doesn’t have any text, just images, which I think intrigues people as they see rabbits popping up everywhere but don’t necessarily know what they mean.

“When people find our beer or tap room they join the dots and that gives them a sense of discovery.”

The best result Mowat said is when a trail runner found a white rabbit sticker stuck to a sign on top of Table Mountain. Mowat explained that he took a picture and then after no results on Google’s Reverse Image Search, got a tattoo on his leg of the rabbit. A few weeks later, his running mate had moved to a village close by The Green Room and spotted a ​three-meter​ roof mural of the rabbit as he drove by on the road. He followed the rabbits, got to the Green Room and made the connection.
“The tattooed guy came by the week after and got a free beer and T-shirt,” Mowat said, adding that recently they have finished another rabbit design on a wall to cover up some graffiti.”

The fact that we have a striking image and no text also helps blur the line between art and advertising,” Mowat said.​Recently, the South African brewery captured a Platinum Crushie in the Craft Beer Marketing Awards for Best Original Video — Humor with its “Shipwrecked” entry.

Brewer had Mowat share some insights to the win.​

​BREWER: Why is your winning video entry in this year’s 2021 CBMAs a great example of marketing for your brewery? Can you give us the backstory on creating the video?
​MOWAT: ​It’s a great example of our marketing as it started out as a conversation with a filmmaker friend over a few beers. Coming up with cool ideas and then following through is what we try to do… My filmmaker friend (Lee Doig of Let it Rain Films) is an Emmy winner. He has won at least 1 Emmy as Director of Photography on American Survivor. He loved the basic idea which was building a bar in a shipwreck, having characters representing the beers and a shipwrecked sailor dying of thirst stumbling upon the bar on a deserted beach. When ​COVID came along, a lot of creative people in the film industry were out of work and were keen to do something cool that allowed them to be creative. Being able to do something very original, out-there​,​ off-beat and not following the formulaic restrictions of typical big advertising was also a plus. The only one of the characters in the ad who was an actual actor was the barman, he is a friend and takes care of deliveries for me if I take time off. The shipwrecked sailor is the original owner of The Green Room who has never acted before, the rabbit is the artist who has done all the logos and labels and I was the porcupine. On the day of making the ad, we called out to the local community who helped us carry all the filming gear to the beach (approximately 2 km each way along sand). This was great in the morning when it took us about ​three hours​ to carry all the equipment by hand but in the afternoon at the end of filming most people had drifted off home and at 6 p.m. we were left with all the gear and less than half the people. An emergency call to a friend with a boat was in order and ​three round trips later, we had the location cleared as the sun set. Everyone on the job worked for beer and T-Shirts.

​BREWER: What are the popular beers at your brewery, and how do they compare to the popular styles in your country?
MOWAT: My most popular beer is the White Rabbit Blonde Ale, it’s a very easy drinking ale and is an entry level craft beer, not too heavy on the hops. Craft​ beer makes up less than 1% of the beer market in South Africa and is a relatively new​,​ but growing sector. The beer drinking public had very little option — either ​Lager or ​Pi​lsner until quite recently (​the last 10 years) and the best sellers in the sector are typically craft ​L​agers. I started home brewing as I couldn’t find any decent beers in S​outh​ Africa when I moved here in 2008 from Alaska. I don’t make ​Lager or ​Pilsner as I don’t like them very much. I have an IPA and NEIPA for those whose taste buds need a bit more and over the years, I’ve seen those beer sales grow as our customers get a bit more adventurous. The Session NEIPA — I call it a NASA (New African Session Ale) is called Space Bunny and is proving very popular.

​BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
MOWAT: I’ve had a few influences in the industry, craft brewers in Cape Town are generally super helpful and generously donate time to discuss the business and give input when asked. The guys I’ve learned brewing from are Glenn Adams and Morne Uys from the brewery I brew at (Valley Brewery). Greg Casey from Afro Caribbean Brew Co. ​a​nd Rory Lancellas from Aegir have both helped me immensely in terms of avoiding some industry pitfalls and about the craft beer business in general.

​BREWER: What idea did you or your team come up with lately that has been a big benefit to how your brewery functions?
MOWAT: I don’t own the brewery I brew at, but Glenn Adams has recently designed and manufactured his own canning production line which I will move to once I have finished all my bottle boxes!

​BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry in your country, what would it be?
MOWAT: Craft ​beer is still very new and misunderstood in South Africa, education on beer styles is important, people often don’t know what they are really drinking and if they drink a style that isn’t to their taste will say “I don’t like craft beer” and move back to SAB ​Lager again. Personally, I don’t like English or Belgian styles and there are quite a few breweries I will not go near, not because they make bad beer but because they make styles I dislike, but the general public doesn’t get that … yet….

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