Natty Boh is more than a beer to Baltimore

Last week, MillerCoors and Pabst Brewing Co. settled a lawsuit that, for a moment, appeared to threaten the future of Baltimore’s unofficial official beer of choice: National Bohemian, affectionately known as “Natty Boh.”

The beer is a staple in Charm City, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of its sales, despite it not having been brewed here for decades. So, when Natty Boh’s future fell into jeopardy after a dispute between its parent and grandparent companies, Baltimoreans rightfully took notice.

Natty Boh is more than just a beer to Baltimore. It’s an iconic brand in a city that, unfortunately, doesn’t have many other brands to tout.

It’s armed with a logo that hasn’t changed since the 1930s — that smiling, one-eyed, mustachioed face; Mr. Boh clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously. Baltimore, sandwiched between bigger markets of D.C. and New York, didn’t used to either. But today it’s hard not to be somber. Our headlines are sobering, outlining our city’s many challenges.

While rallying around a beloved brand in trouble won’t solve Baltimore’s ills, it does provide a shot of much-needed positivity. And brands — and branding — is kind of my thing.

Years ago, my agency, MGH, was tasked with developing an ad campaign for Smyth Jewelers. Using the phrase, “Where Baltimore gets engaged,” we needed to find a way to further connect the family-owned local jeweler with the city in which it has operated for more than 100 years. A few “hons” and playing to Baltimore’s penchant for crabs wasn’t going to be enough. It was clear we needed to rely on recognizable Baltimore legends for this project to resonate.

Enter Mr. Boh and his fiancée, Miss Utz, who graces the Utz chips brand, which, while manufactured in Pennsylvania, was first embraced in a big way in Baltimore. The salty, yet refreshing combo was an absolute hit. More than a decade after the campaign debuted, we still hear about its lasting effects, and folks still search for the iconic billboard overlooking I-83 as they make their way into town.

Some even got the moment immortalized in ink to wear forever. While tattoos aren’t my thing, our agency isn’t opposed to that tactic if it moves the marketing needle. In fact, in 2009, one of our employees had a whale supported by Natty Boh balloons inked on his leg as part of a challenge to get Twitter followers for a client.

Unlike other brands synonymous with the city, Mr. Boh feels like a resident; his mug — outlined in neon red — even lights up our skyline. Whether looking at the beer from a marketing perspective, or just as a business owner in the area for the last 23 years, I know how important Natty Boh is to this community. I see the branding on work in MGH’s halls, on my drives through the city, and even in my refrigerator. He’s more than a brand. He’s one of us.

Andy Malis is CEO of MGH in Owings Mills. His email is amalis@mghus.com.

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