March 30, 2011

Gender Politics in Craft Beer Marketing

So a recent freelance gig I've had, along with last week's look at the Upright Four Play label, reminded me of one of the ongoing debates we encounter in craft beer, which is whether everything is aimed too overwhelmingly at young men. Craft brewing remains a pretty overwhelmingly male field, but the market has grown so dramatically in part because of its appeal to both sexes.

One of the freelance stories I did focused on "manly labels," that is, labels designed to appeal specifically to that testosterone-fueled young man usually associated with what used to be craft beer's main market. Of course, the assignment (like any such assignment) is a little contrived, and so therefore can be seen as silly, but I have to say that I think most people would be surprised how hard it was to find decent, clearly masculine design in craft beer.

As someone weirdly obsessed with the design of this industry, I can say that it has definitely moved since I first started paying attention to it. Yes, of course there are still your standard hop bombs and rockets and devils, but generally the art associated with even the hoppiest beers has gotten far less aggressive. One area where there is still an imbalance, of course, is in the scantily-clad-woman-on-the-label, but even there the trend is more toward artistry and less toward sheer sexist ogling.

For example, the Avery Dugana:
courtesy thefullpint.com
The Dugana girl is pretty hot and close to nude, but the whole work - down to the latest redesign - is less about titillation than about an aura of lushness that the image fits well. Now, there remain an odd profusion of naked devil chicks on labels, and as far as I know there is no label showing a scantily-clad hunk of man, so I'm not claiming equality in the industry. I think what I am noticing is that, despite market growth, poor marketing and design are less and less surmountable sins in the craft beer industry. The continuous movement away from chauvinism may be less about social conscience and simply more a function of the market, with 1600 or so craft breweries, no longer letting weaksauce fly, even from an advertising perspective.

The movement of more women into brewing is fueling some art of its own. Jay Brooks linked this great image from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing:
The Rosie the Riveter theme has been often done in such things, but this is a better-than-average adaptation.

Gender-sensitive marketing can be abused, and done badly, of course. Take, for example, the new offerings by Mexican brewer Minerva, aimed at gay beer drinkers.
both courtesy Trendhunter.com
Okay, well, first, the design is not that great. It's somewhere between unsubtle and tacky (get it? PURPLE and RAINBOWS!). But, from a larger perspective... what? So the beer is for gay people? Do all gay people like the same flavors? If so, how does this cater to those tastes, other than with colors associated with pride social movements? From the press release:

...Another unique attribute featured in the packaging is that the label on the beer bottles peel off and are meant to be worn as a symbol of gay-lesbian pride. These first “queer beers” are set to debut in Japan, Mexico and Colombia... This unique product deployment by Minerva breweries is their involvement in supporting the gay communities worldwide and hopes to make Minerva beers a choice for not just for same-sex couples, but for everyone.
Okay, so the peel-off-to-sticker label idea is one that could be used more widely, but the rest of this strikes me as between boneheaded and offensive. Does Minerva do work in the gay community of Mexico? They say nothing about it on their Web site, but if so I guess it makes sense to see if one can leverage goodwill into sales. But this feels more like a dumb marketing ploy; a "hey, we're the beer for gay people!" move that reeks more of condescension than sincere affinity.

For what it's worth, in my experience, the GLBTQ community is wildly diverse and would be pretty hard to pin down with even a brand more clever than this. Statistically, it's a consumer base that is generally more affluent, community oriented, and concerned with authenticity and craft. In short, it's actually an ideal market for craft beer, just as it has been for artisanal products. But I've seen no research indicating that any group of consumers, except young children, cares more about a label than about the product itself.

Lest we forget: All marketing generalizations and statistics are just that. Obviously, everyone makes up their own minds about what to purchase and why. But analyzing and predicting lots of those decisions is how a brewery like Sam Adams grows to millions of barrels, or a Mexican brewer decides to launch a beer dubiously targeted at people attracted to others of the same sex.

Last month I got a chance to exchange an email with a woman named Alison Grayson, who is making a movie "For the Love of Beer" that focuses on women in beer.

One of the things that has surprised me in making this documentary is that many women directly involved in the industry don't feel that male-centered marketing has been a key component in discouraging women from joining the industry.  However, women who aren't involved in the industry seem to feel that male-centered marketing is the biggest reason there aren't more female consumers.  If breweries aren't losing potential employees through marketing, they are definitely losing potential customers.
Basic marketing will tell you to gear your marketing towards your largest clientele.   However, with this marketing, you're excluding a large chunk of the population, which in this case is a relatively untapped market. The focus of For the Love of Beer is primarily to celebrate the women who are involved, but along the way we have learned a lot about why more women don't feel inclined to become part of the industry or consumers.
Her movie is already funded through Kickstarter, and I encourage you to go take a look and maybe kick a few bucks to them. You can also find her on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that the Dugan A label never gained as much notoriety as the Lost Abbey label featuring the witch on a stake. You make an interesting point about good design. Tasteful design considers how consumers see the image and presents it in such a way that is aesthetically pleasing. That and the image on Avery's bottle is not about violence or oppression. The message of lushness comes through loud and clear.

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