June 29, 2011

Beer, Gender and the Tender Trap of Bikini Marketing.

This post is going to delve into the ease with which we follow well worn paths. So here is ours. It's true that we've responded to things that other beer writers have written and certain of those writers with growing frequency. Unless someone can point me to another beer writer here in the valley addressing our beer culture then we're going to continue to use Andy Ingram's Beer Buzz as a jumping off point for writing and discussion. I'd love nothing more than to cite other writers here in Phoenix, but it seems there is a focus on product and beer business reviews where the aim is not conversation driven. Kudos to those bloggers, but that's not our territory to explore. And now on with the show.

Today, Andy looks at Gender roles in beer advertising and characterizes the state of beer marketing produced by the big boys of brew:
If you look at beer advertising over the past few decades and knew nothing about the drink, you might conclude that beer is a drink for fraternity boys with a penchant for misogyny, marketed by athletes, rappers and girls on "bikini teams."
Keep that definition in mind, because we'll come back to it. The column continues with an assertion that the big boys can afford to potentially alienate up to 25% of its consumers; that craft beer advertisement, where it comparably exists, is story driven and generally gender neutral. Craft beer is diverse in flavor and variety and there is no reason to market or craft a beer specifically to women. On these and other points we're in full agreement, with a caveat which you'll come to see.

On the future of craft advertisements, Andy speculates:
The poisoned pill may be what got us into this mess in the first place: advertising. As craft brewers grow to a point where we see more television and print ads, my fear is that some brewers will use the formulas of the past to market their beer. Specifically, sexism.
Sadly, I've seen examples of Andy's fears come to pass. Back in January, Jay Brooks posted a You Tube ad for Red Brick of Atlanta. With a by-line like, "Blonds go down easy, real easy", you can see where craft beer has taken it well beyond the Miller Lite Cat Fight Superbowl commercial. I guess you would call it crass without the adjuncts.

Wasatch and Squatters Brewing of Park City Utah have some print ads that also fall right into this formulaic trap. Ask yourself, do these print ads fall into the frat boy bikini world Andy outlined? They do and so much more.
Not even Bud.
I don't think these breweries set out to demean women. I also don't find their content so objectionable that I am called to action or want to start some sort of boycott. Arizonans can purchase Wasatch and Squatters, but thus far, Red Brick is not available in the state. I'm fairly sure that the people green lighting these ads thought they were creative and clever. Frankly, I'm disappointed more than anything else. It makes them look lazy and tacky.

A week ago I had a Wasatch Devastator Dopplebock having forgotten about the Wasatch print ads. It'll be impossible for me to not make the association, now. Will I not buy that beer the next time? I'm certainly going to pause.

Calling Sir Mysogy-lot

I've said oftern that we live in a time and place where an unpresidented number of fine beers are available to us. More and more it's difficult for a brand or a brewery to differentiate itself. Breweries should know that our enjoyment of beer extends well beyond what's in the glass. When a brewery falls into the macro-advertisement trap, I feel a little let down, especially in a era when so many breweries want us to buy into the mistaken idea that passion is the fifth ingredient in beer.

Oddly enough, I believe the first "I'd Tap That Poster", I saw was at the 2011 Arizona Central Critics' Pick: Best Girl-friendly Brewery: Papago Brewing. Guess which beer from Papago was touted by author Kellie Hwang?
Many women who aren't into beer often change their minds when they taste the brewery's popular Orange Blossom beer, which tastes like an orange Creamsicle. Papago occasionally hosts events such as beer dinners and pairings with desserts such as homemade ice cream, which attracts many women.
I'm not here to call out Papago or even the author at the Republic. I just want to illustrate how pervasive and powerful the effect of generations of beer advertisement pounded into our brains is. From an early age, we're instructed that beer is masculine except when it comes to attractive females. For women to enjoy beer, it needs to be altered in some way. It's so ironic that the most masculine advertised beer brands are the most flavorless and least objectionable beverages created in the history of mankind. Have you seen the MGD 64 Lemonade review?  It shows how easy it is to walk the well-trodden path and not consider the message.

One group that is educating people about women and their growing involvement in fine beer is Arizona Girls Pint Out (AZGPO) led by Maureen Basenberg. In January, Maureen did a presentation: From Alewife to Bikini Girl and Back in which she discusses the sexism in advertisement and ultimately asks the large-scale breweries of the world to forget the marketing and, "just make better beer."

AZGPO is decidedly not a group out to influence how brewers should create and market beers for women, rather it is connoisseur group that gains strength in creating an ideal environment for beer tasting and education. The format is social with a blend of information and exploration of the many flavors of beer by a group that traditionally has been ignored, pushed away or was patronized.

AZGPO is not choosing so called "chick beers" for these events. The first two beer styles chosen for their Style Series meet ups was IPAs and Sour Ales. Their 1 year Anniversary beer was Milestone Märzen, brewed by Sun Up Brewing. If I recall, one of their first events included a Carnegie Style Porter. I've been drinking fine beers since 1988. I hadn't ever had a Carnegie Style Porter ever until I found out where Maureen got it.

Raise your hand if you even know what a Carnegie Style Porter is.


  1. That hop-breasts ad is truly, utterly revolting. Looks like some kind of lizard-alien. How could anyone have thought that was anything but an unbelievably stupid idea?

    "Raise your hand if you even know what a Carnegie Style Porter is."

    Err … well, only because I know there's a brewery in Sweden called Carnegie, and I did drink a bottle of its porter many years ago.

    Martyn Cornell

  2. Martyn

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I had seen rather incomplete references to Carnegie porters in the BJCP Baltic Porter style guide.

    "rarer lower gravity Carnegie-style versions will have a medium body and less warmth"

    They also list Carnegie Stark Porter (Sweden) as the commercial example.

    So vague and nebulous, it always stuck with me and I had to have one. I never figured on this style being available here in Phoenix, but it is.

    Forgive me, I forget where you fall on the bjcp style continuum discussion. Left of Ron and right of Kristen? ;)