In 23 years of heading up his own marketing and sales agency, Neal Frank never had a lightbulb go off the way it did at a meeting seven months ago.
He was talking with guys who ran a company that packed ping pong balls and cups together for beer pong. They had told him that they were in 30,000 convenience stores and had grossed $7 million in sales.
Frank was astounded how big the game typically reserved for college fraternity life had become. And then came the thought? Why isn’t a beer brand marketing an association with the “sport?”
“My wife and family haven’t seen me since that ‘wow’ moment,” Frank now says. “I trademarked Pong Beer and spent plenty of days testing profiles of beer.”
When people see the name and see the design, they think that Frank is just trying to sell the worst product at the cheapest price to play the game. “Value,” after all is what frequent beer pong players are looking for. But that’s not what Frank is going for.
“There’s no advantage to doing that,” said Frank, whose Marlin Entertainment is based in Westport, Conn. “The name and the association with beer pong introduces them to us, but then when they try us, hopefully they say we’re the best product for the price.”
A 30-pack of Pong Beer, made at City Brewing in Latrobe, Pa., where Rolling Rock and Pabst brands are made, typically costs between $16.99 and $18.99 for a 30-pack, which includes two ping pong balls. The cheapest beer can be found for as much as six dollars cheaper for the same number of beers.
“If you play the low price game, you lose your personality,” Frank said. “I want to be associated with beer pong because I want to associate with the social aspect of playing it and I want to capture that consumer at 21 years old and own him for life. No one holds up Natty Light in a bar or at a party and says ‘That kid’s cool.’”
Frank says that in just two months, he is now in 15 states, mostly on the Northeast because of ease of distribution. He has 40 wholesalers, who each have 500 accounts, which means Pong Beer has quickly found its way into 20,000 retail locations.
“This potentially could be the fastest growing light beer in the US,” Frank said.
Frank says he has learned that beer pong is a $300 million business and is growing. He has signed Ron Hamilton, who won two straight World Series of Beer Pong titles in 2009 and 2010, and says a clothing line is next.
“I’ve never been in the beer business, but it works the same as any product,” Frank said. “Trial, conversion and loyalty.”
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