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Craft Beer Goes Commercial

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- When you're drawing the line between small beer brewers and their plus-sized counterparts, commercials seem to be a fairly logical line of demarcation.

Anheuser-Busch InBev spent $1.9 billion on marketing expenses in North America alone last year. Its competition at MolsonCoors spent nearly $1.8 billion promoting its brands last year. That combined $2.7 billion would be about 20% of all craft brewers' retail sales in 2013.

It's also more than three times the $739.1 million in net revenue that Boston Beer, the largest publicly traded craft brewer, generated for all of the year. When you're competing against marketing power that's better funded than any brewery you could throw at it, that pretty much takes big-beer tactics such as commercials off the table, doesn't it?

Not necessarily. This year is about to see a slight uptick in craft beer commercials thanks to some strategic spending by some of that community's larger brewers. For the past few weeks, North American Breweries' Seattle-based Pyramid brand has been pushing its IPL variety through commercials embedded in banner ads. Also home to the Magic Hat, Genesee and Portland brewing companies, NAB and its nearly 340,000 barrels of production are just one of the forces driving a big craft commercial push in 2014.

The Craft Brew Alliance -- which produces the Widmer Brothers, Redhook, Kona and Omission beer brands, as well as Square Mile Cider -- is recognizing a hot brand when it sees one and giving Kona a push this year. The Hawaii-based brewer's sales jumped nearly 17% last year after increasing 27% the year before. Since 2011, production of Kona beers has jumped from 173,000 barrels to 257,000 -- surpassing Widmer's 253,000 for the biggest brand in the CBA portfolio.

Not content to sit on its "Liquid Aloha" laurels, Kona is launching a series of Hawaii-based commercials that not only highlight the beer's point of origin, but go right after the sun, surf and sand marketing of competitors such as Corona. Its "Dear Mainland" campaign is fun, but also befitting a brand that's distributed to 39 states and has lots of room to grow:


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