Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category

Is Your Lager Phone On?
December 17, 2009

If America is Jackson Pollock then the UK is Rolf Harris.

–Battle of the Craft Brewers: US vs UK

This feature on Dwink argues that the US is currently winning the rounds.  The most compelling aspect of this article is the section on availability of craft beer in the two countries– the UK dismally losing this round. “Penetration within the pub companies, mostly owned by banks not brewers, is constrained by the beer tie while many insist on centralised distribution through one of the big three logistic companies.” This is my frustration– even though the brewer-to-drinker ratio is greater in the UK, the selection of craft beer readily available in the just isn’t as healthy as in the US.  For this to change, we have to get more Brits drinking craft beer.

The other night Mr. Malting was at a metal show and the craft beer on tap was Sierra Nevada.  This is something I’m seeing with more regularity in trendier pubs and venues– American beer is becoming increasingly available. Everyone I talk to in my peer group, and most are almost inconvertable mega-lager drinkers, believe that the image of craft beer in the UK is the one insurmountable obstacle, but I’m sure distribution plays a bigger part.

I realize I long ago turned my lager phone off.  I don’t know how to reach all my lager and wine drinking friends, try as I might suggesting different beers.  The lager drinker who will opt for anything that’s around 4% or the wine drinker who’s not fussed as long as it’s red suddenly become very picky when presented with ale.   I can only conclude the reluctance is not about taste; it’s about image.

It is curious to note that among my friends and peers in the US there is absolutely no stigma to drinking craft beer.  On the contrary, it is cutting edge, hip, authentic.  I wonder if the way forward in converting a younger generation of beer drinkers will be through more American craft beer available here in the UK?

Isn’t that the way lager almost swept out real ale in Britain initially?  The imports were sold to Brits as the shinier, younger option?  In profoundly image-conscious Britain we need to think of a narrative that will resonate with younger Brits the same way the populist, American”Craft Brewer” video spot resonates with Americans’ identity as revolutionaries and independents, Davids to the industry’s Goliath.

To do this we really have to redefine our terms.  “Microbrew” and “real ale” have become problematic and exclusive.  Perhaps a more encompassing approach is to embrace “craft beer”?  We know that cask ale isn’t the only good beer around, despite its vitally defining role in British brewing, but this is a topic for another post.

My friends who went to All Tomorrow’s Parties tell me that Exmoor ales were served at the Butlins venues and the staff were encouraging punters and really offering the beers as locally made and an exciting “new” option.   Perhaps this approach–emphasizing food miles and green thinking, the authenticity of locality and context is the way forward?  I remain skeptical.  Part of me believes that many Brits would opt for a stylish import or a mass brand “no brainer” over something as seemingly unfashionable as real ale.  I would like to be wrong.

This Gendered Pleasure
October 28, 2009

In the news yesterday: Ex-Anheuser female executive Francine Katz, the “Queen of the Beer Industry”, sues for gender bias and pay descrepancy, claiming working for the company which oversees brands like Stella and Bud entailed enduring a “frat party atmosphere.”

Katz said that by 2007, her base salary and bonus were only 46 percent of what her predecessor on the committee, John Jacob, had made six years earlier.

It’s no surprise that corporate, big-lager culture would be a hostile place for a woman to work, but I think it puts the arguments of sexism and the beer-o-sphere in perspective.  It goes all the way to the top and trickles all the way down. I would like to think that microbreweries and independent pubs could separate themselves from the Big Boys in many ways.  That would mean not just keeping quality and tradition alive but also involving women respectfully and equally. Is that so hard?  What is it going to cost? Other beer bloggers have argued it’s not up to the small businesses to change things in this way.  But it is precisely on this level where we have seen change in the US and here in the UK as well. (For example the Pink Boots Society was started by craft brewers, not macros.)

A couple of weeks ago I was discussing the sexism in the beer world with a friend of mine, also an American immigrant.  Both of us are from the West Coast of the US, where, she argued, we lived in a bubble of progressive thinking.  It’s true that in Portland, Oregon and many other brew-happy cities along the coast women drink beer, brew and serve it expertly, and they do so without being some kind of anomaly. They don’t have to worry too much about what kind of image they are projecting or whether their involvement with beer has made them less attractive to men. (I’m happy to report I’ve lived unburdened by the “I’m drinking from a pint glass– will a man ever want me?!?” dilemma.)

A recent conversation amongst beer bloggers has discussed whether beer-drinking women are sexy.  The Bittersweet Partnership, a branding “feeler” from the Coors corporation, has asked the internets what men think of women who drink beer.  I have written about the Bittersweet Partnership before.  I think it’s missing the point, at least for serious beer drinkers who are more interested in the flavor, history and culture instead of the image it projects to the opposite sex.  Their approach is clumsy and corporate, and doesn’t speak to me as a woman consumer, but with that said there is a part of me that really hopes they eventually hit it.  Especially if that’s what it would take for the “small guys” to listen.

In general men are not expected to subscribe to the same acute self-consciousness as women. Are men worried they will be rejected by women based on what they are drinking?  I wouldn’t waste my time turning the tables–  let’s face it, asking if beer-drinking men are sexy is a pointless and slightly depressing question.  Homer Simpson swilling Duff or worse– Beer, Sex, Chips and Gravy comes to mind. Beer isn’t very sexy, period.  Or is it?

Good beer has an undeniable earthy sensuality, and it makes you feel good. If we are to find the sex appeal in this beer culture of ours, we only have to think back to our last festival or gathering where someone said, “Oh, this is wonderful.  Try it!” That generous spirit is much more appealing than insisting on “no beer guts.”  We need to ask ourselves which is sexier– the image of the drinker in the right clothes, striking the right pose and drinking out of the right glass or the attitude of someone who sees new beers as an adventure– someone who is totally present while they taste things.  To prefer the former is, I’m sure, a failure of imagination.

No Futures
October 22, 2009

The Dead Milkmen might have some marketing tips for punk investors

The Dead Milkmen might have some marketing tips for punk investors

Of course it would take a fab party, thrown by the BrewDog guys, to get me to break my long silence.  Some of the blogoshire has been discussing the Equity for Punks proposal, the most recent business development strategy from my favourite UK brewery.  Basically, you can own a small share of the brewery for a dear price.  You get a say in their plans and a 20%, life-long discount on their beers.

I arrived at the party without knowing what was up, having left early that morning before the informative email had been sent.  For days I kept wondering what the news could be– building it up in my mind as some big, ongoing collaboration between a US brewery like Stone, or some new transatlantic brewery, some London-based brew house,  but I kept wondering– why have it in the City, right in the heart of the very unpunk land of suits? Well, now I know.

Toni and her colleague, the brewery’s PR people, welcomed me to the party and filled me in– how lovely to arrive somewhere and know friendly faces were waiting to have chat and get you a beer.  These guys have PR down, and it’s not just because they are professional about it– there is sincerity in everything they do.

Later in the evening James came by and guessed perfectly the beer in my glass (delicious Bashah, a black double-belgian IPA by Stone and Brewdog– the one-two punch of chocolate malt and a complex hop combination). When James asks you how you like something, he genuinely wants to know.  Drinkers matter to James, as much as the beer. That’s why, if I had the 230 at my disposal right now, I would hand it to him in a heartbeat. After all, this brewery has given me some of my most ecstatic beer moments and continues to capture my imagination.

(Other beers of the evening were old standbys as well as the sardonically named Nanny State, a 1.1% mild, practical joke of a beer which tasted more like unfermented wort and was so hoppy I was still tasting it the next day. )  I saw several beer bloggers who let me know my posts have been missed– it’s nice to know that people still remember this blog.  At one point Jesus John beat me repeatedly at arm wrestling.  And I even managed to make some new friends as well– we shut the place down.

Now the morning-after-the-night-before haze as abated, I have read the Equity for Punks prospectus and have decided that as a traditional investment it makes no sense at all.  But as Pete Brown has pointed out, that’s not really why they are doing this, and if you read the comments to the post, James has articulately responded to some concerns being raised about the numbers on this thing.  The green brewery they have planned is beyond exciting, and if this means the brand will grow, making their beautiful beer more accessible to a wider range of drinkers, how could I be against it?

The ironic “Equity” pun is intentional, I suppose– this isn’t necessarily equitable, especially to any of the punks I know who couldn’t afford the 230 quid price per share.

Equity for Punks promo image

Equity for Punks promo image

But there is another inequality here that surprised me– and that is the new role of women-as-window-dressing.   It is an approach that BrewDog hasn’t had to take to sell their beers, until now.

Unsurprisingly, most of the people at the party were men.  A sea of suits.  Except, milling about were a pair of women sporting a shiny version of Camden punk-goth-emo, looking like two exotic birds misplaced among a murder of crows. At first, naively, I was excited.  Look– other women! I was about to go up an chat to them when the realization chilled me: these were BrewDog’s answer to the Bud Girl.

The promotional image for Equity for Punks features three screeching maenads-for-hire, decked out in the latest Suicide Girl style sexy-punk.  Whose idea was this?  I’d like to think that James and Martin look a bit uncomfortable in the photos, as if the tie-pulling there is more than fabricated flirtation. Did their new partners at Skyy Vodka put them up to this?

My short time wearing a suit and working in the City taught me that it was like going back in time, to gender roles of the 1950s.  Women in the London banking industry survive by somehow embracing their role as sex objects while competing in a man’s world. BrewDog may be ironically donning suits as well as the backwards gender attitudes of the City, but I’m not in on the joke.  I would like to think that James and Martin’s being surrounded by a punk harem is just an abberation in the brand’s marketing.   Though I might be the only person to openly voice this discomfort, I was not the only person that night to comment on this.

BrewDog, please don’t use women in this way in the future– you risk losing potential women drinkers, and alienating the ones you already have. We don’t want to be the flowers in your dustbin.   But do I have to put on my old corporate suit and find 230 pounds before you hear me on this?

Not really a page three girl
August 6, 2009

Irrelevant really, except I once was very blonde and very young.

Irrelevant except I once was very blonde and very young.

I’ll admit one of my prime annoyances is the marketing of blonde ales as if the beer is a woman you can “have”.  “Skinny blondes like to have a good time” being the most recently obnoxious example of this.

According to the press, Brew Dog’s Trashy Blonde has come under fire from feminists. This beer happens to be my favourite offering from Brew Dog, and that’s saying a lot.

It’s a pretty lantern-orange color. The big fruits (lychee dominates) and hoppy bite are fresh and juicy, and they ask little from the drinker, save that you pair it with something tasty.  Anything really. I won’t say it’s easy going because then I would be anthropomorphizing this beer.

The marketing of Trashy Blonde is so OTT and really kind of poignantly satirical, it’s hard to be offended.  Once a friend of mine read the label out loud.  “You know you shouldn’t…A titillating, neurotic, peroxide punk of a pale ale.  Combining attitude, style, substance and a little bit of low self esteem for good measure; what would your mother say?”  She and I, both avowed feminists, cracked up.

If we could just drop the blonde’s “e” it could be talking about the forbidden boyfriend, about a person we know or used to be. It could be, my my hey hey, the story of blond Johnny Rotten.

Good beer is sexy.  Can we find a new way to talk about this yummy aspect that doesn’t demean women?  Irony is one place to start but it’s going to be, as most things worth doing, a very tricky business.

Going Retro
May 16, 2009

Have you noticed the 80’s are back?  This isn’t really news–neon tube dresses and big bangs are never really news.  Some even report the 90’s are back also, in a kind of apocalyptic pile-up of decades.   The contemporary teen version of the 80’s is something much shinier than what the teens of the 80’s actually lived with, as if they are willfully embodying nostalgia for a time they never knew.  If the 90’s come back, what will the zeitgeist polish up for us?

If I was going to bring back the 90’s beer wise, it would be dishonest not to include Oranjeboom, a beer I drank a lot of–in cans–in Southern California.  I don’t know if it was because it was, to us, exotic, Euro-trashy, and had this name we liked to say.  Before I knew anything about beer, it was cheap and easy.

Yesterday I met up with a lovely Scouser friend, G, for beer and shoe shopping.  He was gracious enough to ask me to suggest a beer to him.  We were in a Shepherd’s Neame pub Mabel’s Tavern, and I haven’t had many of their beers because I’ve been put off by the ad campaigns.  I ordered a Bishop’s Finger for G and a Kent’s Best for me– this beer was a winner, with a dominant, piny hop character and an enveloping malt, and he preferred his beer to mine.  So then, on our second round, why do I decide to throw out all my beer know-how and order us two halves of crap lager?

I’d never seen Oranjeboom outside of Trader Joe’s in SoCal.  The little red tree–the happy name–I gave in to nostalgia.  So much for being a beer expert! The beer was a forgettable, too-sweet lager.  Apparently it is now brewed by Shepherd Neame, and is one of those rare beers that was probably better in the can!

According to my friend, Oranjeboom’s big British moment was in the 80’s– maybe it’s right at home with the gladiator sandals and splatter prints on the high street.  G regaled me with stories about the British marketing campaign in the 80’s  which included Oranjeboom’s own version of the Bud Girl and he even sang me the jingle.  And he drank it without complaint.  What are friends for, after all?

What are your ‘retro beers’? What beer, when confronted with a tap of it, would have an irresistably surreal nostalgia for you?

Thank you David Mitchell.
April 19, 2009

Banned Courage ad

Banned Courage ad

Don’t you hate it when someone does something stupid/insenstive/hostile and then says, “I was drunk”?  Perhaps some people like to see booze as some Jekyll potion, but drink can’t create something that wasn’t already there.  It does, however, provide people who are jerks with an excuse for their behavior.  Which brings me to this ad.

David Mitchell takes on the courage ad in a recent Guardian piece. He also takes on some of the irrational responses of the ASA to beer advertising with his typical humanity and humor.

Like Mitchell, at first I didn’t get this ad.  The woman doesn’t look “bad” enough to explain the scenario.  Is she asking him to unzip her?  Follow her up the stairs to the bedroom?  Why is he afraid? What is going on?  Only the little tag hanging from the back of her garment helps with the narrative…oh, she just bought that dress.  And, oh, by perverse advertising standards we are supposed to see this woman as fat.

Mitchell has the optimism to see the ad as a joke on a relationship-ending mistake– the guy will be drunk enough to say, stupidly, “Your ass looks fat in that.”  Whereas, once I “got” it, understood it to mean beer gives you the courage to shame your lady (permission to be a brute– in the mode of the “Don’t Expect Help on a Tuesday” Nuts ads which feature a hapless woman getting sprayed by broken plumbing while she calls to her distracted partner reading the magazine). The ad seems to claim the guy is justified in being totally tactless because she’s a fat cow and somebody’s got to tell her, might as well be you.

It doesn’t take courage to be an ass, but the beer’s a handy excuse.

Not in the least bit creamy!
March 28, 2009

Getting women to drink something not exactly unlike beer
March 27, 2009

Coors new ad campaign aimed at women.

Coors new ad campaign aimed at women.

Coors new brand spells it out for you: Yes, some beers make you burp. Yes, some do have a bitter taste. Yes, you can get bloated drinking beer. So we changed it. Their new lager is “ultra filtered” so that it’s completely clear.  And it’s flavored with green tea and dragonfruit.  The tasting notes for this prerelease are limited to “like an alcopop.”

Fancy being a beer goddess? The site asks me while giving me some handy facts about ancient mythology and “experimental cocktails.”  My first reaction when looking at the Bittersweet site was that it was some kind of joke. What if beer came in sexy easy-to-carry boxes? A girl can dream!

There is also much talk of glassware. On the “Views” section of the website someone, probably not a real person, suggests that if bars  “have sleeker slimmer or taller and slimmer or curvier glasswear, I buy one more proudly. Usually I really prefer a large dash of lemonade on the top too.”  (emphasis mine).

So really, not beer at all but shandy in a champagne flute?  This isn’t aimed at me.  It’s not even aimed at any women I know.  This campaign is patronizing and alienating and is doomed to fail.

The Beer Babe is running a “Beer for Women” ad design contest. On the contest page she links to a video where this issue is being debated on BBC Breakfast.  There is an image consultant (surely a vocation overly represented in hell.) who suggests that if a woman were to order a beer on a date it would turn the guy off.   She claims the drink you chose reveals who you are. She suggests a Manhattan, a “Sex in the City” style cocktail. I think all that really tells us is what kind of person she is.

What really keeps women away from beer are backwards, sexist attitudes that still persist in beer culture and marketing.  Take Skinny Blonde, a new Australian beer.  The label features a pin up girl whose clothes disappear as the bottle warms.   If we are to apply the image consultant’s logic to the male drinker, how would this beer augment his image? If you were on a date with a guy and he ordered this beer, would you be turned off? It might impress some moron friends of his but most women I know would see it as a red flag.

Some beers have managed to appeal to women quite effortlessly–think of Hitachino or Meantime–not a pink heart in sight. Beer culture does need to evolve, and perhaps advertising will be part of this, but I’m skeptical.  When has advertising ever really understood us as human beings? These femme campaigns are trying to right the wrongs of the macho mega-breweries but they have it all wrong. People don’t drink beer to impress each other, they drink beer to be together.

Carling Belong bus stop ad from 2006

Carling Belong bus stop ad from 2006

I’d be lying if I said this ad made me try Carling, but it spoke to me as a beer drinker who just happens to be a woman.

Naked on a beer rug.
August 11, 2008

Pump clips from the GBBF.  So. Not. Sexy.

Pump clips from the GBBF. So. Not. Sexy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder…from today’s Mirror, researchers prove beer goggles exist. Which begs the questions– why did they need experts to prove this, and why, exactly, is this news?

The researchers administered vodka to test subjects– probably mixed with something to mask the alcohol. So, technically, they really haven’t proved the validity of beer goggles, at least in my mind.

Beer isn’t really sexy-making, is it? Beer in the quantity that gives one goggles also bloats and queases. Beer marketers have a lot of work to do if they really want to bring sexy back in a more universal aspect– this would mean more than a stemmed glass (apparently the stemmed 1/3 pint glass at the GBBF was designed to appeal to women. Does anyone else find this strange?)

Yesterday I was at the Market Porter, drinking a wonderfully estery Crouch Vale Eldorado when I spied a pump clip for a beer called “Forbidden Fruit” featuring a be-thonged prepubescent-looking buttocks with a disembodied hand holding a strawberry over the tail bone. The tag line read, You know you want it. Er…ok. But can you put it in a stemmed glass? Part of me thought, gee– that beer must be pretty great to survive such a horrible pump clip, but I’m not getting anywhere near it. Many beers are marketed as “sexy”, with a shameless use of women’s bodies. (In the US these babed-out ad campaigns are reserved for the “Bud Girls” and other megabreweries.) It’s just uncool, really, and no amount of beer goggles could make this bad taste good. Every time I see something like this it’s the equivalent of a cold shower. Is it any wonder women drink wine? Have you ever seen a crappily drawn bikini clad woman on a wine bottle? Real ale in the UK would be forward looking if that approach were just ditched, lumped, exstinctified. In my more paranoid moments I figure these ad campaigns in the UK are designed to deter women and save all the good stuff for men.

Witness the wrong-on-all-levels Shepherd Neame ad:

...a bowl of water for me bitches

...a bowl of water for me bitches

So, while beer advertising evolves (one lives in hope), let’s talk about beer. What is the sexiest beer you’ve even had? What made it so? Mine without a doubt would be Paradox Grain. Teh hotness.