The Marketing Magic Behind New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger IPA Series
Chances are, if you’ve perused a liquor store in the past few years you’ve passed a suspiciously sublime skeleton emblazoned on bright cardboard. Much like the aggressive hop bill inside, New Belgium Brewing Company brewed its Voodoo Ranger series to stand out both in flavor and branding. Launched in 2017, the Voodoo Ranger IPA series has quickly become a foundational pillar of the New Belgium portfolio. We asked New Belgium’s Director of Brand Marketing, Kyle Bradshaw, about the growth of the brand, how it has been able to connect so effectively with consumers and what comes next.
Generating consistent sales success for a brewery (much less a brewery’s specific beer line) is exceedingly difficult given the complexity of today’s craft beer market. Things were different for Voodoo Ranger, Bradshaw said. Brewed with the familiar pairing of Mosaic and Amarillo hops, the original Voodoo Ranger IPA found its success bridging the gap between hoppy bitterness and juicy, fruit-filled aromatics. That drinking experience opened the door to early sales to—and retention of—the core IPA drinker. Combined with what Bradshaw called a “mysterious, renegade but light-hearted spokes-creature,” in the Voodoo skeleton, New Belgium knew it had a brand to build around.
“After a very successful first year in 2017, we knew we had something big on our hands with Voodoo Ranger so much of the last two years has been about adding more depth and personality to the character,” Bradshaw said.
Part of building out that depth was expanding the skeleton’s portfolio. Alongside the original, Voodoo Ranger also offers Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA, Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA and Voodoo Ranger America Haze (a new easy-drinking unfiltered IPA) as part of its year-round lineup. Coming in at 5%ABV, American Haze is the lowest ABV offering in their year-round lineup and also aims to appeal to drinkers who crave a beer that is both hop-forward and sessionable.
While American Haze has sales potential, Bradshaw said the highest-performing beer in the year-round lineup is actually their most boozy: Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA. At 9%ABV, the imperial IPA offers the type of bruising hop flavor that might seem a bit past-trend but is actually one of the biggest and fastest-growing IPA brands in the country, according to Bradshaw.
With a stable of four consistent sellers, Bradshaw and team saw an opportunity to expand the brand even further by getting its audience involved. The result is the Voodoo Ranger Instagram account, which aims to connect with Instagram’s large craft beer following through memes and topical humor coming from the voice of Voodoo Ranger himself. The channel represents a new way for breweries to interact with their audience without having to share beer release details and hours of business. It also keeps a bit of distance from the larger New Belgium parent brand, which seems to be an intentional marketing strategy to build out Voodoo Ranger as its own unique craft beer entity.
From the looks of the engagement Voodoo Ranger gets on its posts, the strategy seems to be working. But the reason people follow this account is not just because of these high-gloss memes: It’s also because they get a chance to decide the next releases in the Voodoo Ranger Rotating IPA Series, which featured Voodoo Ranger Liquid Paradise IPA, Juicifer IPA and Hop Avenger IPA in 2019.
Bradshaw said this new rotating IPA rollout, which debuted last year, was the number one craft beer launch of 2019 in terms of total volume. Why? New Belgium was able to pair consumers’ curiosity with drinking new beers with genuine fan engagement by driving fan votes via their social media accounts. The tactic drove awareness among this audience while subsequently building in demand for a beer that people actively advocated for.
This was the case for New Belgium’s Hop Avenger IPA which was the winner of the Vote Voodoo contest which ran in March 2019. The content drove initial engagement for Hop Avenger along with subsequent buzz when the beer launched in September.
“Our fans really engaged with that contest and we pushed out engaging launch content to support Hop Avenger’s release in September,” Bradshaw said. The runner-up of the 2019 Vote Voodoo contest, Voodoo Ranger Starship IPA, was released in early 2020 and is the first release in this year’s rotating IPA series.
With a solid set of core beers alongside a popular, fan-driven rotation of new offerings, the overarching brand of Voodoo Ranger continues to climb in sales. According to Bradshaw, among brand families of “significant size,” Voodoo Ranger is the fastest-growing IPA brand in craft beer.
With three solid years under its belt, the Voodoo Ranger brand still has room to expand. Along with the recent release of American Haze, Bradshaw also noted that the brand will employ another fan-driven voting campaign coinciding with the presidential election later this year dubbed the “Vote Voodoo” campaign.
“We’re hoping to provide a little relief from election season burnout by providing a fun and lighthearted vote resulting in a new IPA to get people ready for the real deal in November,” Bradshaw said.
While well-crafted IPAs and catchy social media posts drive awareness, Bradshaw said that it’s the easy-going skeleton at the forefront of all packaging and posts that seems to foster the biggest connection with fans.
“Above all, it’s just a very different brand in the world of beer and drinkers appreciate that,” he said. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to bring the character to life, which has created a lot of moments for the brand to connect with new and existing drinkers.”
Feature image courtesy of New Belgium Brewing Company