I was going to title this Blogs vs Prohibition but that would be inaccurate since, although some of the people are bloggers this is a project that had its origins elsewhere in the Interwebthingy. Some background: although America repealed prohibition decades ago a number of states maintain laws relating to the sale of alcohol which are clearly attempts to limit the sale of the demon drink via other means than outright bans. The laws are mostly in the South-eastern US and they were being gradually repealed but the Interwebthingy has helped significantly increase the velocity of this process by helping interested consumers find each other and organize lobbying groups to counter those of the existing trade, which mostly sees the laws as a way to protect their market or extort their customer base.
One excellent example is Alabama and its Free the Hops campaign which got much of its start at The Motley Fool's Beer discussion board. Alabama has laws that limit the strength of beer that may be sold and the size of the bottle in which is may be sold. These laws apply solely to beer and their effect is not so much to deny alcoholics their fix or stop underage drinkers but to ensure that Alabamians who have a taste for higher end beers are forced to travel to other states to buy their beers. The result, not surprisingly, is a number of beer shops on the borders and a good deal of frsutration for those Alabamians who have graduated beyond the horse-urine products of Anheuser Busch and co.
The tale of Free the Hops is an instructive tale of how the new world is helping the little guy to organise. Firstly the Interwebthingy allowed the founder to hook up with and gain help from the camapigns in other neighbouring states such as North Carolina's Pop the Cap (which has just succeeded in its goal). Secondly TMF beer afficionados from other places were able to provide advice and critique the web-pages, press releases etc. for effectiveness not to mention provide free proof readers to catch spleling and grammatical: error's. Thirdly a yahoogroup's mailing list made it easy all the supporters to stay in touch, And finally the website and its blog made it easy for other interested people to hook up or tell their friends. As the founder writes at TMF, the website helped find critical industry backing:
Well, like a great deal of the success of the campaign so far, much of the credit for this lies with a man named Harry Kampakis, the owner of Birmingham Beverage. Birmingham Beverage is the perfect distributor for us to partner with, because they handle most of the high end stuff in North Central AL.
Here's my recipe for success:
Late last year i was in Vulcan Beverage buying some good beer. I decided i'd broach the topic of reforming the beer laws with the proprietor, Mark Green. Vulcan was the first place that came to mind when i thought about who would be interested in such a campaign, because the whole focus of his business is craft beer. Really amazing. The guy has a whole wall of coolers, and he has maybe two shelves of BMC. Everything else is craft. He also sells some wine and liquor to help pay the bills, but that's only because the craft beer selection in AL sucks so bad right now. Once the laws are changed, he's going to drop the wine and fill that square footage with beer.
Anyway, once i had a flyer laid out, i dropped a few by Vulcan. Mark was stoked. When he ran out, he went and made more copies himself. By now, he's probably made a thousand copies combined of our original and newest flyer. Paid for himself.
So one day in January, a salesman for Birmingham Beverage goes to check on Mark and talk about whatever beer sales people talk about with beer retailers when there are no new products offerings coming out. Sales guy sees the flyer and thinks "Harry's gotta see this." So he folds the flyer up, makes it back to the office after his rounds and tosses the flyer on Harry's desk, "take a look at this." Harry was thrilled.
You see, Harry's been fighting this battle for 15 years within the wholesaler's association. Always trying to get the limits lifted. Bud always killing it in comittee. So he knew his time had finally come. At last, there was a consumer group interested in fighting the battle with him. The final piece of the puzzle.
So that very day, he read through my website, emailed me. The gist of the email was "we should talk." So he invited me and FTH VP out to lunch. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now they are getting meetings with the governor of Alabama, and hints from him on how to what arguments are likely to be best appreciated by the groups that would normally oppose such a deal.