Adam Ritchie Adam Ritchie

Remember that toy at the bottom of the cereal box? It usually didn’t have a tie-in to the cereal, but it made the product that much more appealing. Now imagine if an entire cereal was created to celebrate the toy inside. That’s the idea behind the case study we’re about to share.

O'Dwyer's Mar. '17 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar.'17 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

Boston-based indie rock band The Lights Out had a tough choice. They’d just recorded a sci-fi album about traveling through parallel universes and were considering how to release it. In one of the alternate realities they’d written about, consumers still went to music stores for new releases. But in this reality, they don’t. New music, books and games are being encountered online, and physical immersion — along with the excitement that comes with it — has been sucked out of finding these products. The experience of discovering something new on the shelf, ringing it up, and the thrill of anticipation as you head home with it, is increasingly rare.

Following the foot traffic

There’s still a physical place consumers go at least once a week to discover something new. They’re even legally required to go there for it: it’s the beer store.

Craft beer drinkers, like foodies, are an adventurous breed. Most of their purchase decisions are made standing in front of the beer cooler. They have little brand loyalty, and their favorite beer is the one they haven’t tried yet. It’s the same type of person who in the past might have seen a new album by an unknown band in a music store and taken a chance on it if it had an interesting cover.

Understanding this, instead of self-releasing their new album online or in an outdated traditional format, the publicist for The Lights Out brought it to a brewery instead, and asked them about releasing it on a special can of beer.

PR as product inventor

With every launch, PR is handed the product and tasked with figuring out how to raise awareness for it. In best-case scenarios, maybe PR had some input in the product’s development. What makes the Lights Out T.R.I.P. case study unique is it’s a scenario where PR caused a new kind of product to exist, with a strategy applicable to any digital entertainment product launch.

The Lights OutBoston-based band The Lights Out teamed up with the Aeronaut Brewing Co. to release the band’s sci-fi themed album, T.R.I.P., becoming the first studio album ever released on a can of beer.

Square one is identifying the right food or beverage partner, whose brand and consumer overlaps with yours. The Lights Out chose beer because rock music fans love it. And they found a receptive partner in Aeronaut Brewing Co. for their science-inspired T.R.I.P. album, because the brewery was founded by scientists from Cornell and MIT.

The brewers listened to a rough cut of the record, surrounded themselves with its pandimensional themes and brewed T.R.I.P. The beer was a paradoxical “imperial session” ale, with galaxy hops from the other side of the world and pictured the band on the label. It was brewed to serve as liquid sustenance for someone traveling between universes.

What made it an “album release beer” instead of a typical tribute beer was the social media trigger and instructions on the label. When drinkers posted a specific hashtag on Twitter, they’d receive a message back from the band, telling them what an alternate reflection of themselves was doing right now in a parallel universe, along with a link to the album. Then they could enjoy the beer, while listening to the music that inspired it, and have a complete sensory experience with sound, visual, touch and taste. The beer fueled their journey through the multiverse, and the album became the soundtrack to that journey.

Transferring bytes into bites

Let’s say instead of an album, your PR team is tasked with promoting a book. Does the story take place in a specific time period? Is there a character associated with a specific food item? If you’re promoting a new Berenstein Bears e-book, why not release it on co-branded jars of honey? If you’re promoting a new digital episode of “Twin Peaks,” how about serving it up on cherry pie following the recipe from the Double-R Diner?

PR professionals could apply the same thinking to product development that we’ve always used for creative mailers. And by bringing a social media release mechanism into the mix, we’re driving consumer-generated social content, while keeping stakeholders engaged and entertained.

Serving up new media contacts

Another benefit of turning your non-food product into something edible is that it becomes much more interesting to your industry’s media contacts, and opens the door to food and beverage media who would otherwise not have been among your outreach targets. They love a food item with a good story. A food item serving as the release vehicle for something from a totally different industry can make that story irresistible in terms of coverage potential.

If the product you’re supporting can be downloaded, the next time you walk through the food aisle, imagine every bag of chips, bottle of soda and box of cookies as a blank slate, just waiting for the right digital pairing.


Adam Ritchie is the owner of Adam Ritchie Brand Direction in Boston, where he helps brands grow, communicate and do the right thing. He is also the guitarist for The Lights Out.