February 9, 2023

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How a USP Lifted Schlitz Beer From 5th to a First Place Tie

The Unique Sales Proposition separates you and your product from the competition. But in too many cases, there’s little or no difference in one product and another.

But the product doesn’t have to be different. You can claim something both you and your competitors are doing.

Saving Schlitz

This example goes back about 100 years. Claude Hopkins, a legendary copywriter was given the Schlitz Beer account but he couldn’t think of a hook. All brewers were advertising their beer was pure but the claim did nothing to influence the public.

Finding the Hook

He went to a brewing school to learn the science of brewing but still finding no answer went to the brewery. Here’s his description of how he reached a solution:

“I saw plate-glass rooms where beer was dripping over pipes, and I asked the reason for them. They told me those rooms were filled with filtered air, so the beer could be cooled in purity. I saw great filters filled with white-wood pulp. They explained how that filtered the beer. They showed how they cleaned every pump and pipe, twice daily, to avoid contamination. How every bottle was cleaned four times by machinery.

I came back to the office amazed. I said: ‘Why don’t you tell people these things? Why do you merely try to cry louder than others that your beer is pure? Why don’t you tell the reasons?’ ‘Why,’ they said, ‘the processes we use are just the same as others use. No one can make good beer without them.’ ‘But,’ I replied, ‘others have never told this story. It amazes everyone who goes through your brewery. It will startle everyone in print.'”

The Results

He was right and that’s the story he told in the ads. Within a few months, Schlitz jumped from fifth to a tie for first place.

Hopkins had created a USP, a real difference in the public eye, even though the brewery used the same process as other brewers. He said owners and managers are often too close to the problem to see it.

That is a situation which occurs in most advertising problems. The article is not unique. It embodies no great advantages. Perhaps countless people can make similar products. But tell the pains you take to excel. Tell factors and features which others deem too commonplace to claim. Your product will come to typify those excellencies.”

It Lasted a Long Time

Now Schlitz remained among the frontrunners of American beers for more than 60 years. And an advertising campaign contributed to the mighty brand falling quickly. That campaign featured an angry-looking boxer who asked “you want to’ take away my gusto?” The public hated what became known as the “drink Schlitz or I’ll kill you” campaign.

By one estimate Schlitz lost 90% of its value from 1974 to 1982 when it was sold. Too bad Claude Hopkins wasn’t around. Maybe he could have found them another good USP.