January 21, 2011

The Dumb Tool Culture Hits Craft Beer

So this is going to be another post that's not about label art so much as it is about the marketing, branding, and business of craft beer. Unlike the onion rings post, however, this will contain no reporting, and perhaps no particularly deep thoughts. This (as the title implies) will mostly be a rant. I say this so that you can skip it and tune back in later if you want more label art.

If you read this, you know I'm an avid fan of Jay Brooks. This week, he shared a video with a couple ads by Atlanta's Atlanta Brewing Co./Red Brick Brewing. He wrote that it was good to see craft beer on the airwaves, but wanted to stay away from commenting on the content, which he noted was potentially controversial:

Like Jay, I agree that it's good to see craft beer on air. Unlike Jay, I do not believe I'll be staying away from this one.

I've written here before about the fine line craft breweries walk when it comes to masculinity in branding and design. Most beer drinkers (and brewers) are male, but there are plenty of women who drink beer and even more who might drink craft beer. Furthermore, masculinity is different from chauvinism. Stone, for example, thrives on an aggressive masculine aesthetic but has many women devotees, employees and followers, and no one thinks they're pigs. Perhaps that's because their marketing is tongue-in-cheek, or because their beer is so aggressive and so there's an element of accuracy in the identity, or because we just recognize they've made a strategic decision and if their branding alienates a few women, well, Greg Koch probably knew the risk he was taking.

This is different. This is pathetic.

First of all, it's offensive. There is no other word for the thinly-veiled implication that women of a certain hair color provide sexual favors more readily. Hell, I'm offended and I'm neither a woman nor a blonde, just a person who has a vague feeling that consumers deserve at least the appearance of respect regardless of their genitalia and chromosomes.

But, leaving morality aside, these ads are bad. For one, "Get it? Cuz blondes are easy and the product is called a blonde!" should never be the implicit punchline to anything in marketing. It's not new, it's not creative, and I can't imagine it makes someone like your product. Acting with sensibilities out of the 1950s is not cool unless you're Don Draper. For another, they're not particularly well done. There's one camera angle, and two puns (it is easy to get a blond woman to perform fellatio = our blonde beer is easy to drink; falling down = euphemism for said fellatio), and nothing else.

Most importantly, though, this is a stunning miscalculation of the craft beer audience.

Look, the first rule in marketing is that you have to know who you want to buy your product. In this case, one assumes it's craft beer drinkers. Generally speaking, such people are persuaded by flavor, the artisanal nature of the beer, local ties, cleverness, or even quality art or design (okay, okay). Look at the Sam Adams commercials; totally filled with beer geekery, and they've done all right. Red Brick looks like they've made a beer commercial to pry people away from Bud Light.

It's one thing when a MillerCoors decides their beer tastes too much like beer or ABI launches a years-long ad campaign which has the sole message of "If you are an inept idiot, this is the beer for you!" They're in a basic duopoly battling for market share and profit, and most tricks have been tried, and there's every reason to believe their consumers don't actually like beer so much as they like crisp things that get them drunk. It's even understandable when Heineken or Bit Copa or Corona decides that the highly sophisticated strategy of "Look! Boobies!" is the way to go. People do look at hot things (and even come up with stupid reasons to justify the fact that we like sex), and in the macro market, you're chasing crowds.

But a craft brewery like Red Brick? What the hell is the point? First, in craft beer (as I have often written), the problems are usually on the supply, not demand, side. If you're a small brewery having difficulty selling your stuff off, chances are the problem is with the product, not that people are unaware of it (moreso for a brewery  that's 17 years old). So you need to reach niches, not just more people. And, even if you do (by getting guys like me to give you free exposure), WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO COMPETE WITH BUD LIGHT? The one thing ABI has is a massive advertising budget, and they'll keep their customers more easily than you'll pry them away with your oh-so-clever sex jokes. And, in this case, you also lose the respect of craft beer drinkers, who probably should have been your target market. The ones who have 20th (let alone 21st) century consciences don't like this douchey stuff, and the other ones haven't been given one good reason why your beer is any good.

Jeff Alworth has already done a short, scathing indictment of these ads, including a hilarious takedown of the nigh-illiterate label copy on Red Brick's beer, and assured us that they will be up for a 2011 DMS award. It's worth clicking that link and reading it. But one thing he said I do want to quote:
Not only is it offensive, it's stupid. Craft brewing has been fantastic at shedding beer's sexist image--and as a consequence watched their sales grow. Retrograde "girls are for laughing at and screwing" beer ads are a sure way to turn them (and me) off.
His point is well-taken. Craft beer has achieved success by doing what macros never were able to do, which is attract serious beer-drinking women. Women are a major part of the market now, and it has dramatically affected craft beer as an industry for the better. Deciding to be openly hostile and derogatory to that massive customer base can not help you long-term as a business. And, in the short term, you will lose those of us who take the culture and industry's gains as a point of pride.

1 comment:

  1. Seriously, it takes a lot to offend me, and when I clicked through to watch the video, I did so with my usual "I'm sure it's not THAT bad" attitude.

    And... Wow. It really is that bad.