National Brand With Local Cause Marketing: New Belgium Brewing Company’s Urban Assault Ride
Peter Panda

I would like to share with you an excellent example (in my opinion) of an event-based cause marketing promotion put on by New Belgium Brewing Company. Beyond the normal operations of their company (they are wildly transparent about their alternative energy and environmental goals, among other things), they also produce the Urban Assault Ride every year, holding a similar event in 10 cities across the country.

Having ridden in the past three summers’ events, I can tell you they are legitimately fun, well-organized, and seemingly successful. The New Belgium Brewing Company describes it as combining “the best parts of a bike race, adventure race, obstacle course, and a back yard party.” But for today, I’d like to discuss their model for incorporating cause into a clearly corporate event and promotion of a product line. This is a bike ride about promoting beer. They do not hide that fact; the obstacle courses involve retrieving beer cans from bottoms of pools, or building a puzzle to reveal one of the corporate sponsors’ logos. But it’s also a benefit on a number of levels, and I am continually impressed with the way they effectively weave cause into a corporate event. The event is structured such that they are walking the walk (biking the bike?), not just talking the talk.

As their website clearly explains, the event aims to not only promote biking in general, but also learning to use bikes as transportation in a community. By holding a race where you plot your own course through St. Louis city and county, the ride itself promotes the use of a bicycle for more than just recreational riding on a closed course. Many of the riders don’t typically ride 25 miles in traffic on a Sunday morning from downtown to Brentwood. The rules and all event info mandate that participants wear helmets, follow all traffic laws (disqualified if you get a traffic ticket), and use bike lanes when available. There might be no better way to advocate for drivers and cyclists getting along than for more of them to be successfully sharing the road together.

In each city, New Belgium teams up with 2-3 local nonprofit groups and involves them on a number of levels. Not only are they listed as the beneficiaries (they actually receive profits from the event), but often their offices or headquarters are featured as stops along the race (where there are usually obstacle courses). The organizations also typically provide volunteers to man the stations and help staff the event. So by the end of the day, the hundreds of competitors have not only donated funds to the organizations, but have often also visited their spaces and probably talked to their staff. I think that’s a successful introduction to a local organization. In the past, St. Louis organizations have included Saint Louis BikeWorks and Trailnet (to my knowledge).

It’s smart of New Belgium to involve local organizations instead of picking a national one, as the buy-in is better from the organizations, participants are thrilled to be supporting a local organization that they may already be involved with (or can now become involved with), and the organizations get more than just a check at the end, they’ve actually gotten exposure to a community of people who often share their same values and support their mission. The way they’ve integrated various cause components into the event (I didn’t even mention that they buy carbon offsets for the event, recycle and compost almost all waste, do not provide bottled water and engage local businesses for food, vendors, etc.) is a great model for corporate cause events. They are showing, not just telling. I’ve been to plenty of events where a beneficiary is named or featured, but very few where I feel like I am already invested in and likely to re-engage with an organization that was one of that event’s true partners. Kudos New Belgium! Ride on, St. Louis.

(This post originally appeared on the blog of 501Connect.)

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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