Tuesday 21 August 2012

An Open Letter To All Breweries About Branding

Dear Brewers, Brewsters, Marketing People and Art Departments,
I love our industry, I really do. I feel blessed every day to work in, what is undoubtedly, the warmest, most welcoming and fun business in the known cosmos.
But I've got a bit of a bone to pick with you... in fact, I've got a whole skeleton's worth... and it's about the sexist imagery some of you use to promote your beers.
Just in case you haven't noticed, in the last few days there's been a bit of a furore about the issue of rape, some bloke called Julian, a mahoosively ill-informed American politician and some loud-mouthed idiot who has remarkably managed to manipulate a whole section of society into voting for him.
I'm not, for a single moment, saying that pump clips or bottle labels incite rape - that would be equally bone-headed - but you only have to look at the enormous backlash such idiotic comments have evoked to see that sexism has no place in modern society - so why do you still indulge in it?
As business people can you honestly not see that it does PRECISELY NOTHING to encourage intelligent people into drinking beer? And I'm not just speaking for women here, a brief comment on Twitter, and the resulting responses, shows that many men find it equally disturbing.
And just in case you're wondering whether this is merely an intellectual objection, I'd like to give you an example of why branding and sexism is a real issue. At the Great British Beer Festival this year I was happily minding my own business, waiting for a mate to return to the bar, when I was approached by a man who asked me what I thought of the pump clip next to me.
It was a nonsense 'slap & tickle' style image and I said I thought it was stupid. Cue said 'gentleman' launching into a full-scale rant at me that started with: 'Yeah, I know who you are. You're that joyless cow who complains about this all the bloody time. It's harmless fun, what's your f*cking problem.'
And much as I enjoy a spirited debate from time to time (for those of you who know me, feel free to snigger), I walked away. Why? Well, as a wise man once said to me: "Don't argue with idiots, they've had way more practice."
But I was targeted, in a very aggressive manner, by someone who wanted to use my stance on sexist marketing as a big stick to beat me with for being a woman in the beer industry - is this something you want to encourage or that you want your brand associated with?
And if that one anecdote, and sadly I have a number of them, doesn't do it for you, perhaps I could draw your attention to the fact that research by Molson Coors shows that 42% of women are put off beer by the macho marketing...
From a professional standpoint I also get more than a bit ticked off when I seek to engage with you about this issues quietly and politely in the background (I'm looking at YOU Marstons) ignoring my efforts is pretty rude to be honest, so I'm going to say it publicly instead!
Some of your range of seasonal pump clips for the Wychwood and Jennings brands are depressing at best and, at worst, simply puerile. Are you honestly proud that your products have joined the beer equivalent of the rogue's gallery over at Pumpclip Parade? (BTW, kudos to Jeff Pickthall for running this site.)
If smaller companies like Hart Brewing, which has previously been a particularly bad offender, has recognised that it needs to change its ways, how come one of the largest regional brewers in the country seems incapable of doing so?
And can we just take a moment to look at the Slater's range and the frankly pathetic out-dated, out-moded and tragic pump clip for the equally tragically-named Top Totty that hit the headlines earlier in the year after being banned from the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons?
All else aside, from a purely aesthetic point of view, how can a successful and genuinely good brewery not see how appalling cheap, nasty and tacky it looks against the rest of the brands?
These are sadly just a small selection of the awful dross out there which is damaging our industry's image and making life difficult for women to get into beer, let alone those of us who are already in, what I've said before and will say again, is a truly wonderful business.
You may think I'm making a fuss about nothing but, I'm a firm believer that any aspect of society that fosters intolerance is created of thousands of elements, none of which are too small to challenge, and this element should, most certainly, be called time on.


Séan Billings said...

I actually think that such pump clips look amateurish. It's pretty poor marketing to use a pump clip which has the potential to offend a huge proportion of the population.

Gareth said...

Too right. Just because something is a traditional product doesn't mean its marketing has to come from the dark ages. I don't think it's a coincidence that some of the best beers brewed in this country are marketed in a modern, inclusive way; it's about having self-respect and some pride in your product.

Unknown said...

That kind of personal attack on you was totally unwarranted. You were the better person for walking away.

The problem with branding of this nature is its own success. Slaters' sales went through the roof following the level of national media coverage that even a macro brewer couldn't buy.

I think Hart's changed their branding when their ownnership changed.

As for Marston's... maybe they're not appealing to the "intelligent drinker"? Maybe they don't need to?

If their profits and market share are up, why should they change?

Triple fff Brewer said...

Well said Melissa! This has been an annoyance of mine for a long time now, this is 1970's imagery that should be well and truly left in the 1970's.
Whilst trying recently to champion real ale to some female friends of mine, what was on offer at the bar..? Wychwood's Bountiful, that's what. Back to square one I went after telling them how cool and diverse breweries had become.

Sam McGregor said...

I agree with you 100% Melissa. This needs to hammered home more, nothing puts me (and many others) off a beer faster than a stupid name and design. A la "Sheep Shagger" or "Top Totty"

Whilst we're at it, can we bash beers names that are simply just awful puns.

Sam McGregor said...

I agree with you 100% Melissa. This needs to hammered home more, nothing puts me off a beer faster than a stupid name and design. A la "Sheep Shagger" or "Top Totty"

Whilst we're at it, can we bash beers names that are simply just awful puns.

Melissa Cole said...

Thanks for all the comments guys & gals, nice to see agreement in most cases.

Elspeth Payne said...

Is the beer good enough to brand it as beer, or do they need a diversion to get people to drink it? If the Top Totty tempest were singular I'd say it was a tacky but effective ploy to get marketing viral.
I'm not interested - and make a point of not drinking or writing about - beers that are advertised in really juvenile ways, and that includes crassly sexist labels. But then they're not marketing to me.

Beer culture is shifting. However, despite the currently increasing diversity and quality of craft beer, there will always be drinkers of pond scum, and these ads will attract them.

Paul Bailey said...

With you on this Melissa. Back when my wife and I ran our real ale off-licence, there were a number of breweries that specialised in this sort of thing. I was hoping that this tacky, juvenile nonsense had died out, but it seems I'm wrong. Nothing is more likely to put me off trying a beer than a silly name and an equally silly pump clip.

Anonymous said...

Right on Melissa. I wrote a similar plea for breweries to stop creating sexist labels here: http://digboston.com/taste/2012/02/honest-pint-sexist-shouldnt-sell/

Labels of half-naked women = lazy, tired, and unnecessary. We're starting to see a backlash to it here--a few breweries changing their labels/rebranding--but there's still a ways to go.

Anonymous said...

Don't normally leave comments, but sometime you have to speak up rather than nodding in agreement (nobody gets to see that!)

Completely agree with this. And Séan's comment that it looks amateurish too. The "only a bit of fun" defence is so evil - it is used to make you look unreasonable. Well, I don't find it fun - it just seems dated, belonging to another age.

Darren said...

Right on!!! Who's making this artwork?!

Anonymous said...

Sex sells. Always has and always will. Talk of intelligent drinkers is nonsensical since the social masses are ignorant and are continually led blindly through the commercial mine field. I am not in the least bit offended by a scantily clad woman or a half dressed buff fireman being used to target the ignorant masses but this does not mark a lack of intelligence on my part. I'm just not over sensitive to such marketting strategies which have clearly been used for years by bigger industries than the beer industry.