Thursday 31 January 2008

A Little Less Conversation a Little More Action

I'm delighted to have so many new comments on the blog and, at the risk of blowing my new-found popularity (which is still bemusing me, I've never had so much feedback on one article!), I've been thinking about how to further explain why it's pointless 'marketing' beer at women when education is the way forward.

What prompted this train of thought is that I was talking to a mate the other day - in the run-up to Valentine's Day - and he was asking me for help buying his Mrs some underwear.

Now, after I'd cleared up that he wasn't expecting me to model it or such like, I started giving him some advice and I suddenly realised what was perfectly normal to me was in fact double Dutch and daunting to another section of society - because of a total lack of education!

I'm not saying he was thick- quite the contrary, actually, he's annoyingly intelligent - but when has anyone sat the average bloke down and said: "Look, this is what 38 means and this is what C means - but I'm only that size in these brands and in those brands I take a size bigger/smaller or I hate this type/colour/make - oh and don't forget the matching pants!"

Correct me if I'm straying into presumptuous territory here but I don't think it happens very often or my mates wouldn't be ringing me and John Lewis and Selfridges wouldn't have been running underwear masterclasses for fellas at Christmas!

Honest to god, I've seen the question 'what cup and back size is she sir?' bring blokes out in a cold sweat and who can blame them?

And it's the same terrified expression that I've come across when women are similarly panicked by the question 'do you want a beer or an ale?' because no one has ever told them that the damn things were different.

I imagine the thought process goes something like this:
Internal voice:"Isn't beer ale? Or is ale beer or... oh bugger it"
Externally: "I'll have a glass of wine please."

Back to the lingerie section and, if the shop assistant is feeling particularly sadistic, they could start saying: "Is sir looking for a balconette, or is madam a full cup kind of girl? And would you like matching briefs, bikinis-style briefs, g-string, shorts or French knickers to match?"

Which is kind of the underwear equivalent of saying: "What beer would you like? A hoppy beer - like a classic bitter or would you like something with more zing like an IPA? Or do you want a malty one? Porter, mild, ESB?"

It all comes down to the flow of information and, frankly, that's where the beer market as a whole and the cask market in general get let down.

On either subject the issue of support has a tendency to be key - so let's demand a little bit more of it!

BTW if any blokes reading this need advice, please don't message me - follow this link!

Monday 28 January 2008

Bang the Drum

This follows on from the previous thread - I got some feedback from an article that I wrote for CAMRA's What's Brewing? and editor Tom Stainer has kindly agreed that I can reproduce it here - please let me know what you think.

YOU may have heard about the launch of Harry’s Beer – designed by, and for, women. On the surface this femALE, as it has been dubbed, has been set up with all the right intentions and a real possibility of making a mark.

The brainchild of 19-yearold Shrewsbury entrepreneur Harriet Easton, pictured right, in partnership with local brewery Hanby Ales, it is designed to be a drink that not only appeals to women, in taste and appearance, but in the way it’s marketed too.

Very laudable and, regardless of anything that follows, well done Hanby for taking on the challenge and I have a lot of respect for the boldness of Harriet in taking on a market that is, often rightly, perceived as one of the last bastions of sexist and offensive marketing.

Take a minute to see what we’ve got to be proud of!

Foster’s for example. During a 30-second or so ad we can be treated to a bloke hiding his beer under a tall woman’s sizeable “rack” to keep it cool, or hiding behind an overweight matron to shade his precious pint – it’s pathetic.

Or perhaps we could go back in time a bit – anyone remember the supposedly female-friendly Holsten Fusion? Mixed with this pilsner of dubious merits were apple, citrus or blackcurrant flavours – perhaps Al Murray was inspired by this when he coined the phrase “fruit-based drink for the lady”?

For me, this captures perfectly the kind of outmoded thinking still held by many beer marketeers – it was just as disgusting as it sounds by the way.

But how do you challenge this type of lazy and flawed marketing? This brings us full circle to Harry’s Beer.

The story of how this beer was created continues with female focus groups and taste tests to discover what flavours women wanted and citrus was a real winner. At this point I’m excited.

The focus groups have identified that they like those brews made with Maris Otter and Cascade and decided they can be greatly enhanced with essence of sweet oranges – okay, I’m not a fan of fruit beers but if this has a touch of zestiness, I can see myself lapping it up during the summer months!

Then, inevitably, the story starts to unravel.

Now, before I make my case for why the marketing of this product has failed me as a female and a beer drinker, I’d like those of you who haven’t had the dubious pleasure of meeting me to understand something. I am not a raging feminist, and I haven’t come across higher levels of sexist behaviour in the brewing industry than I have in the wider world.

So what has really pissed me off about this whole thing is that in the promotional blurb they’ve actually fallen into the traditional “macho” marketing trap by feeling they have to describe Harriet as “strikingly attractive”.

Now, before you think I’m bitter because she’s younger and prettier than me, what’s really ticked me off is that the story of this product started so well, only to be undermined by feeling they have to state this beer hasn’t been created by some comfortable shoe-wearing old battle axe, but an attractive young woman – why?

Surely only the most sadly misogynistic old git would jump to this conclusion and that by pointing out that she’s a good-looking lass is merely pandering to the macho marketing mindset that this most pro-female of beer brands is supposed to be the antithesis of?

And I don’t agree that the cask market is inherently sexist, I think women just haven’t had enough exposure to beer because often, the last time they tried it years ago, it was poorly kept and warm – less common now.

And as for the assertion in the press release that many over-the-bar offerings are “high chemical” I can only say this is, at best, naïve and only further helps perpetuate a myth that is damaging to the brewing industry and would urge a retraction.

On a more aesthetic note why is she holding a handled jug in the picture? I can’t think of anything less appealing to a female drinker who isn’t trying to out-lad the lads! Surely we’re done with that fad now?

Not a lot of people, let alone women, want to be seen holding a jug. In fact one of the biggest complaints I get from women is that the glassware is just so ugly. I must point out that the beer will have “curvaceous” branded glasses – with a daisy on them. I’m sorry, but I’m not a buyer of this either because I can’t see a lot of blokes drinking from a pretty flowery glass and why should they be excluded?

Just as women shouldn’t be kept from enjoying beer by ridiculous social mores, why should men be told, albeit subliminally by the chintzy nature of the receptacle, they can’t drink this product either?

Being as bad as the “macho marketers” doesn’t make women, any better!

But, returning to the million dollar question, how do you challenge this male dominated image of beer through marketing? My answer is you don’t.

My assertion is that cask and real ale products need to be smarter than the average beer by giving all members of society, female or male, the knowledge and confidence to try a range of amazing brews; at the risk of sounding like New Labour in the Nineties it’s about education, education, education!

I believe journalists, campaigners, beer lovers and brewers should be allowing all ages and walks of life the opportunity to try top-quality beer. Where I think Harry’s Beer did get it right is its creators encouraged trials among its target market and that is a lesson the market as a whole, should take to heart.

There should be more sampling at food shows and consumer events, brewers should do more staff training with their customers and pubs should demand third of a pint glasses from their suppliers and sell these legal measures of real ales – it’s seen great success at the Great British Beer Festival after all.

We should also not be shooting ourselves in the foot by running campaigns like the, in my opinion, ill-thought-out Ninkasi (used by CAMRA in 2002 to launch the GBBF).

And, finally, if you must create a product like Harry’s Beer to bang the pro-female drum please, for the sake of women beer drinkers everywhere, don’t change to a beat that’s in tune with the current macho-marketing mindset halfway through.

Sunday 27 January 2008

Blimey - people DO read my articles!

It can sometimes be a bit of a wilderness being a writer - you very rarely get to engage on a one-to-one basis with your readers and it's normally only when they are angry with you for some reason.

Often it is over a perceived slight, whether real or (as is more normally the case) imaginary, tiny inaccuray or, very rarely, over a bloody great big howler you would like to commit to the voids of space.

But, every so often, you write an opinion piece that gets a response and so far - and I'm guaranteed to be dooming myself to an absolute shit storm tomorrow - it's been good.

You see I wrote a piece for What's Brewing? about a new femALE (geddit?!) which has been widely touted as the best thing since Lycra for the fairer sex.

You may, or may not depending on how well you know me, be surprised to hear that whilst I don't have a problem with this per se I do have a problem with the way it has been marketed the major reasons being:
  • If you want to criticise the real ale market for pandering to men don't describe your figurehead female as young and attractive half-way through your press release
  • Don't put daisies on the glass - that makes you no better than these alleged misogynistic marketeers, there's not a lot of blokes who will drink from a glass with flowers on it - in fact who drinks Flower's these days at all?!
  • And finally, don't tell me that a daisy offsets the fact that you've created a handled jug - it's not feminine, I don't want to drink from it because I'm not trying to prove something, are we not over ladette syndrome yet?

I will be asking editor Tom Stainer if I can reproduce the article on my blog at a later date, however, gist of it is that marketing beer to women is about NOT marketing beer to women.

Yeah, I know, very contradictory and there's probably blokes out there saying 'bloody typical woman' - but my point is this: why are we trying to market beer at women when we could be promoting grass-roots in pub and in-supermarket beer education at the whole damn population for a fraction of the cost that a patronising ad campaign can be put together for?!

Sod the advertising, sod the magic bullet, and certainly sod someone putting daisies on my glass - particularly when you've put a bloody great ugly handle on the damn thing - bring on education, interest, confidence to order a beer in a strange pub and know not only that I'll like it but to send it back if I don't because it's not right!

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing they say - which is why I'm just smart enough to know that I want to be more educated about beer, and so do a lot of other members of both sexes.

Monday 7 January 2008

Beers on Wheels

All right, it won't help if you drink too much and can't be arsed to move - but there's just something about this that smacks of genius to me!

Friday 4 January 2008

Light Harvest

Seeing as it's the time of year when when we are all making ridiculous promises and thinking about diets I thought I'd try the bottle of Harvest Ale the boys at Badger kindly sent me.

For those who don't know of this ale yet it recently won a Tesco Drinks Award in the lo/no alcohol category (one category I always beg organisers not to put me in for judging!) and I'm jolly impressed - I can only presume it totally blew the competition away!

At just 2.5%ABV it's well-hopped and I love the no-nonsense approach they have deeming it the perfect lunchtime pint.

There is an initial slightly sulphorous note to it but that quickly disappates into a lovely refreshing hoppy and slightly fruity finish and is so light on the stomach that it would go well with even the heaviest of winter dishes but I can see it really coming into its own in summer with a zesty lemon chicken salad or seafood straight from the barbie.

All in all if you a looking for something at the opposite end of the scale to a lot of the extreme or strong beers that seem to be invading from overseas (not that I have much objection to that) then I really would recommend it.