Guerrilla Marketing: Thirsty Planet Brewing Saves Gorillas With New Beer

Guerrilla Marketing: Why Thirsty Planet Brewing’s Collaboration Beer with the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund Benefited Everyone, Including the Gorillas.

This past weekend I was surrounded by slightly drunk people wearing gorilla suits. No, this wasn’t the opening sequence to a David Lynchian nightmare, but rather the Thirsty Planet Pub Crawl. Thirsty Planet Brewing had just released their new Silverback Pale Ale in collaboration with the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, and the pub crawl served as a means of getting the word out about their charity beer and to sign up people to the annual Gorilla 5k run that happens in Austin (and various other cities).

Businesses, especially large one, have been giving to charities and non-profits since forever. But recently, charitable giving has evolved form a tax-break tactic to a form of in-direct marketing- all while doin’ the Socratic good.  In this article I’ll be exploring how Thirsty Planet and others have used charitable giving to build their brand, all whilst making a difference.

Just Giving; Why Passion Equals Giving

The Wall Street journal did a piece all the way back in 2007 on small businesses giving to charity, and out of the thousands of small businesses out there who give to charity, the WSJ decided to use a craft brewer as an example of how to do it right. This is no coincidence, as Thirsty Planet’s involvement with the MGCF looks like another example of how small businesses can do something good without wrecking their bottom lines.

What Hook and Ladder Brewing Co. and the all-natural candy maker CandyRiot  in the WSJ article have in common is that they are both small businesses that pride themselves on the quality of their product, and reject the notion that consumer goods need to be pumped out quickly, cheaply and (often) shoddily. So if caring about your product and ultimately, your customers is essential to your ethos, it makes perfect sense to expand your caring to projects that benefit the community or something that’s important to you.

I don’t really drink American pale ales, but I’ve drank several pints of Silverback Pale Ale. It’s partly because you get that feel good factor of getting buzzed whilst saving gorillas, but mainly because I appreciate Thirsty Planet Brewing ethos of caring about what they do, and what they’re passionate about.

Going Full Hog (or Gorilla for that matter)

Why Hook & Ladder Brewing and Thirsty Planet’s charity work has been successful is that they have clearly shown that they are fully behind the charities they support – A percentage of every one of Hook & Ladder’s beers goes to charity, whilst Thirsty Planet are donating 100% the Silverback Pale Ale to the MGCF.

Thirsty Planet also produced a range of awesome-looking swag to go along with the beer; including free t-shirts, coasters and of course, cheap gorilla suits. This had led to more people signing up for the gorilla run and buying the Silverback Pale Ale.

Customers can see when you’re fully committed to charity. That’s why when InBev (run I’d imagine by a weirdly efficient German Mr. Burns) slashed giving to local disabled children, it reinforced the image of InBev being a cold, miserly corporation.

Being The Primary Event Sponsor Equals Larger Visibility.

There’s a reason why everybody loves Ted Danson’s anonymous donation over Larry David’s. Ted makes sure everyone in the room knows that it was him who donated the wing whilst appearing to be modest about it. Take Target for example. They donate over $3 million every week, yet their famous bulls-eye isn’t plastered all over the receiving charity’s websites.

Whilst Target’s modesty works work for huge company with a multi-million dollar turnover, Smaller businesses can be more overt with their sponsorship. Thirsty Planet got it right again with the T-shirts and other promotional material; the focus was very much on showing the direct link between guzzling a pint o’ Silverback, and saving gorillas.

For a small business sponsoring an event, it pays to be as overt as possible.  If it’s in your budget, it’s definitely worth getting the featured sponsor spot. This might mean sponsoring a smaller event that’s within your budget, but the visibility will be quintuple that of a regular sponsor.

Choosing the Right Charity

A lot was made of the Invisible Children charity’s recent KONY2012 campaign, where it was reported that the charity used most of their donations to fund bizarre, slick, Glee-esque ‘awareness’  music videos which contained  no mention of Africa. When faced with mounting criticism, Invisible Children’s founder Jason Russell responded by infamously (and hilariously) getting arrested for causing naked mayhem on the streets of San Diego.

Digression aside, it’s really important to pick the right charity (hint: not Invisible Children, or any charity that might stir up some controversy.) The Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund is a great charity to give to, not only because of their outstanding work, but also because aside from a few African poachers and old timey big game hunters, few people wish death upon gorillas.

Ideally, local charities that have an effect on the community you serve are better. It fosters the idea of localism (or the  Hipster Economy as the New York Times calls it), and could directly affect some of the people consuming your products.

And yes, Gorillas are hardly local to Austin. But if something’s important to you, your employees or your customers, don’t let location  be a deal breaker.  Thirsty Planet’s Mike Haiges explains:

By seeking out charities that you feel passionate about one will attract a number of opportunities.  The one tip I have is to find a passion outside of your realm of business that can help in a way that the individual finds worthy and excites the participants.

And a Word of Warning…

Whilst staying dedicated to giving is imperative, some small business owners can go way, way too far. Just look at ColorMeCo, who pledged to give $1 million to various charities in 5 to 7 years.  When revenue didn’t cover their pledge, ColorMeCo’s Dr.  Paul Marciano used his own cash. Sadly, ColorMeCos website is now serves as an obituary for the company. Set realistic goals, or do one off charity releases- such as the Silverback Pale Ale.

If you’re concerned about the money going to the right causes and not ego centric ‘activists’, check out this guide to finding effective charities.

While charitable giving is nothing new to the business word as a way to reduce the tax burden, recently it has become a successful means of in-direct marketing for businesses both big and small. By aligning your enterprise’s passions with a good cause you can build your brand while making a difference in your community and the rest of the word around you.

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Josh Ebsworth

Content Development & Digital Strategy Intern at
Josh Ebsworth is a recent graduate from the University of Nottingham. He enjoys a great craft beer, photography and (lots of) vintage guitars. Shoot me an email at if you'd be interested in writing or commenting for my series, The Austin Entrepreneur.

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