300,000 litres of biofuel and counting: a look at DB Export and Colenso’s attempt to move beyond the ad

Over the last seven weeks, the DB Export ‘Brewtroleum campaign‘ has been encouraging Kiwis around the country to help save the world by drinking variants in the brand’s range. The only problem with the message was that the world-saving action was that it was limited to times generally considered appropriate for beer drinking. One could not, for example, open a DB beer at 11am in the morning and persuasively argue that this was an essential act.

So, in an effort to overcome this problem and enable any person to lend a hand to the Brewtroleum cause at any given time, the brewery has created DB Export 0.0% Citrus—a lemon-flavoured lager with zero alcohol content.  

“The genius of zero percent is that there are now no limitations,” says DB’s head of domestic beer marketing Sean O’Donnell. “You can have it any time of the day. So this idea just builds on the current campaign.”

To promote the campaign, DB has released several clips conceptualised by Colenso BBDO and shot by Scoundrel that pick up the irreverent tone of the earlier ‘Brewtroleum’ spots.   

“We haven’t been too righteous and we also haven’t been too slapstick,” says O’Donnell. “It’s clever and it’s quite engaging. People really want to be part of it.”

So far DB Export has created over 300,000 litres of biofuel, which has been distributed to 60 Gull service stations around the country. And O’Donnell says this has been important in terms of showing that the campaign was more than just a PR stunt.  

“All the media said that this would be a joke. They said, ‘you’ll only produce one container or one truckload’. And the genius was that you can be a little irreverent when you have the real credentials of a petrol station being involved. The takeover of Gull was really important, because it brought a real credibility to the campaign.”

But the challenge didn’t simply lie in producing the biofuel; it was also a case of convincing consumers that it was safe. 

“One of the biggest barriers that we weren’t aware of is how many people are afraid to put biofuels into their cars. The biggest question is, ‘I love the question, but I’ve got a very nice car, so what are the risks?’ There effectively is no risk, unless you have a couple of very high-end cars or some cars that are over 15 to 20 years old. The success of this from a commercial aspect will actually depend on being able to sell more biofuel to more people. That’s a Gull proposition.”

O’Donnell says that the process of converting beer waste into biofuel isn’t yet profitable in this market yet, but it has the potential of being used on a much larger scale in international markets.  

“What we want to do in the long term is create a system in which our natural waste goes into the production of biofuel. That’s the ultimate goal, but it may take a year or two before we’re able to do that in a way that makes sense for everyone … Long-term it could be profitable, but in the short term, we spent a lot of our own resources turning it into biofuel … We wanted to trial the concept and see how consumers embraced it. But I think what’s exciting is that Heineken [which owns DB]has asked how we did it. And on a global scale we produce a lot of beer waste, and there’s definitely interest in getting it into other markets.”

Colenso production director Paul Courtney says that the real value in the initiative lies in the fact that foundations have been laid, making it easier for international partners to incorporate it abroad. 

“To hear [from biofuel manufacturers]that we’re not producing nearly enough waste was kind of weird … but setting this up as a venture makes it scalable. Those overseas markets don’t have to do all this research. We’ve done the groundwork for them, and the learnings and the hookups we’ve got around the world, we can also help them to bring it to life.”

While the campaign is certainly unconventional, O’Donnell says that DB Export specifically asked Colenso to develop an idea that could bring life to the innovative heritage of the brand while simultaneously addressing several areas of concern with the brand.  

“DB has been performing well for a long time. But we identified three areas where the brand was lacking. We lacked a brand family, so we knew that we had to bring this together as one family. The other thing we knew was that our consumers were lacking a bit of aspiration. So, what DB was doing really well was that it had a bit of aspiration in regard to innovation … The other issue was that we needed to continue with our innovative approach, because Morton Coutts was the son of the founder of the brewery and he was always very innovative. So we needed to bring all those three elements together … There’s a new marketing team at DB. We wanted to do things slightly differently to how things had been done in the past. And the other thing that was really important was about bringing all the variants together. We wanted a whole new brand look and feel. We knew from previous campaigns that to really change the game, you had to do something dramatic.”” 

Colenso creative chair Nick Worthington says that the history of the brand served as inspiration behind the Brewtroleum campaign throughout the creative process.  

“Back in the day,  Morton Coutts just developed innovations that changed the fortunes of DB,” says Worthington. “I mean he did some other weird things. He invented his own X-ray machine and X-rayed his neighbour’s cat. He sent the first telegram from New Zealand to the world, just because he could. Then he invented continuous fermentation, which Heineken continues to use to this day. There was a whole bunch of audacious stuff that just came out of a very fertile mind.”

This, says Worthington, eventually led to the quirky positioning that drinking beer could essentially help to save the world.   

“This got us thinking. When you get a few guys together, who are having a few beers, ideas start happening. There’s actually science behind that. When we have a beer, some of the filters that hold our crazy ideas back get dismantled and you say the things that might be a bit crazy, and they might be funny for a moment. And what happens to most people is that they have a few beers with their mates and say ‘wouldn’t it be great if we did X or Y’ but most people go home and forget about it. But with Morgan Coutts and his ethos, the rock underneath all of this ‘made by doing’. Basically, we’re a brand for people who like to not just talk shit, but actually get things done. Really, it was as simple as applying that methodology to the campaign.”

In previous interviews with StopPress, Worthington has spoken about Colenso’s focus on developing platforms rather than single-serving campaigns. And he again hinted at this by saying that the ‘Made by doing’ positioning could easily house future innovations, not only developed by Colenso but also by beer drinkers who have big ideas.   

“We are asking people to participate. Down the line, there’s an opportunity for ‘have a few beers, have some ideas that can change the world’. Ultimately, that’s what we’re doing. And that’s at the heart of New Zealand. It’s egalitarian. And that’s what New Zealand is all about. It came out of bending a Number 8 wire and now we believe we can get out there and do things first.”     ​


Client: Maud Mejiboom-van Wel, Sean O’Donnell, Tony Wheeler
Agency: Colenso BBDO
Production Company: Scoundrel
Director: Tim Bullock

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