Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman for Professorgoodales.net

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

The Topic: A Marketing Wish for the New Brew Year

If I had a few wishes come true for the New Brew Year, when it comes to the commercial beer scene, one would be for better marketing. I was leafing through an April 2011 Beeradvocate I had never read… yeah, I know, I’m slow… and I saw a blurb about Mexico’s Cerveceria marketing beer specifically targeted towards the GLBT community: Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans. Please, if the terms have changed, excuse my ignorance: there is no intent here to offend. And I’d like to state up front that I have no problem with someone appealing to this community.

But when when it comes to beer there is no GLBT only beer, no hetero only beer, no only homophobic beer, no skinhead only beer, no beer only for people of color of all kinds… (What? Since I’m white does that make me translucent?) Just like there’s no White only, or Black only, food. There’s just beer.

Skin color, religion or sexual preferences don’t automatically control our tastes in beer, nor should they. And I would find it insulting that marketeers think my sexual preferences mean I can’t like the same damn beer a “G,” or “L,” or a “B,” or a “T,” would enjoy, just like any of these sandwich like mishmash of letters might enjoy the same damn beer I do.

Maybe that means I “don’t get it,” but I think I do. Back in the 70s the mega brewers dis’d the Black community by marketing, mostly bad, malt liquors, to the Black Community. Some of that marketing seemed close to assuming every African American was a raging, wife beating, drunk. They paid dearly for it too, and so did a sub-style that I admit I dislike… though it can be done well. It didn’t deserve the bad press, anymore than those breweries who didn’t advertise poorly didn’t deserve it, or the African Americas deserved the ad inspired image that was cast their way like a mad, spraying, skunk on an advertising fishing line.

And, as an aside, most of their efforts were swill, style-wise. Either they were weak attempts to pump up their watery beer, or havens for harsh fusel alcohol like Dog Bite or Certified Evil.

My apologies if you like those beers, but the beer judge in me doth come out occasionally.

The GLBT community doesn’t deserve to be ghetto-ized with beer marketed as if they can’t enjoy the same beer the rest of us do.

Now, let’s widen the topic. I noticed on the back cover of Beeradvocate magazine an ad for Ranger IPA. No racial, sexual or theological offense here… just a pyramid made of Rangers. I would say they’re trying to appeal to the nasty, kinky pervs if they were all Ranger award bearing boy scouts in short shorts, but New Belgium did a good job when it comes to the “don’t go out of your way to offend potential customers” requirement: mixing adult women and men with no “seduce” to it.

So what’s the problem, Mr. Column Writer, please?

Well, other than them saying “IPA,” why the hell should I drink this beer? Any recommendations you can offer, even if just absurd, pretend, quotes from the ghost of Michael Jackson, just to make me laugh? (“Yes, in heaven there is beer! And all the beer loving angels love…”) Do they have anything to say that might convince me to buy it, even visual? No, unless I had a great experience drinking with an adult Ranger in my life: an extreme niche market for sure, they give me no reason to slap down my buckaroos for their IPA. Especially since I find NB a spastic brewer who brews somewhat interesting, to boring, sometimes somewhat out of style, beers. Most beer people I have spoken to feel the same way, but even then… NB should be trying to appeal to everyone who might think they might want to try this IPA. Why should even the NB lover who is hooked to only of their beers: afraid to break out of his or her routine, take a chance?

Give us something folks! Anything!

I love a lot of Dogfish’s beers, though I admit they somewhat miss the mark occasionally too. Visually their ads are often interesting: but visual appeal isn’t all that matters if it doesn’t address the product. Yes: their ads often suffer from the same lack of “why-ness.”

Behind the Ranger ad: inside back cover, is a Sam Adams ad for their Wee Heavy. “Big Flavor. Big adventure.” Labeled: “Imperial Series.” A “series?” Oh, I’d better buy this soon, before it’s gone so I can have my non-Pee Wee Herman-ish big beer adventure, and find that next, great, big flavor! Visual, since that is the medium here, counts too. And the layout of the ad here is excellent: fonts mixed well and well balanced. The beer bottle and a poured glass of Wee Heavy are center page: both angling out at me as if I need to catch the glass with one hand and the bottle with the other, then drink them because otherwise they’ll spill.

See what I mean? Superficial though it may be, I now have “reasons” to try it, even though Sam has become somewhat of a mega brewer… a tad bothersome in craft world, in my opinion. And Sam vends out to other brewers a lot to brew their product, so “brewer” is just a “wee” questionable. Even more bothersome. But the ad makes me want to try it.

I have seen that Ranger ad many times and mostly ignored it. This time I had to force myself to stop and study it. It was tough. The ad is so boring. If you’re going to spend a lot of money on ads, and advertising is very expensive when done right, make sure your ad is going to get noticed. Otherwise, why bother?

I’m trying to encourage folks to drink good beer, and often that may include your product. And you can bet the big boys do this well. Just peruse the YouTube beer ads alone: many that have appeared on Professor Goodales. The best: the funniest, are often Bud, Miller. That doesn’t mean they make better beer, but better ads would mean more craft sales, therefore more good, more interesting, beer. Your beer.

Yes, they have the money you don’t, but a lot of this has to do with being clever, “crafty” if you wish. Think about your customer, and your potential customer. What might make them want to drink your beer? Make them laugh? Make them drool and run to the store to buy your product? Oh, God, better go out now before I miss the “adventure,” the “experience,” that taste I can only get with your beer!

Get it? Now make damn sure your ad encourages others to go out and “get it:” get your beer!

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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