Sunday 10 July 2011

The image of beer - brand image

I should really be doing an update on our Saturday Kitchen attack and further considerations for a general attack on the media for not covering beer. It's been an interesting week that's for sure, and when an activity starts to raise a few questions about its appropriateness then you know it's starting to have an effect. There have been various discussions on twitter and blogs about the whole subject and I'm going to take stock in good time. Watch for a further post soon.

Meanwhile, I like to drill deeper into these things; Why is beer seen as such an unworthy subject for many of the major media productions? The answer to this I'm sure is complex and too much for my tiny brain. Still, I do have some ideas, and I'd like to explore them further.

My friends over at Pumpclip Parade did bemuse me slightly when it started; I still bought into the "well, it's just a laugh......." argument put forward in defence of childish puns, irritating alliteration, and bawdy Viz style jokes on pumpclips. The main ringleader of Pumpclip Parade, Jeff Pickthall, had a direct attack at me because of my amusement at Wychwood branding a short time after I started writing on this blog.

Despite that on-line poke at my good character, I have remained good friends with Jeff, and he has slowly whittled away at what has turned out to be a nerdy bias towards certain things1, like for instance the best beer can only ever be served from a cask. Or for that matter, that micro-brewed beer is inherently better than that made in a bigger brewery.

What I am very interested in is how beer can be given better stature across a broader cross section of demographics and there are a lot of things that let beer down in that respect. Branding is just one of them. The branding and image of "Real Ale" in particular is suffering with alarming contemptibility. For this reason we have avoided using "Ale" as a descriptor for our beer and will shortly be engaging in some publicity that more overtly promotes our cask beer as anything but old fashioned and stuffy "Ale"

I'm sure this will cause some shouting about how we are anti CAMRA, which is not true. What we are is pro-beer. We want all beer to succeed, and for it to do so we have to recognise that there might be some things that don't advertise beer that well.

I'll leave you with something that did amuse me, but at the same time worries me. A pumpclip by the well respected Mordue brewery. "A'l Wheat Pet" - I did laugh, out loud too. But on reflection I thought it also localised silliness, which if contained within the geeky pubs I love over in the North East might do no harm. I do think this sort of thing does have a continual and indelible subliminal impact on quality food and drink writers, newspaper editors or broadcast producers alike.

This pumpclip stirred something in my brain. It started to irritate me, despite the NE accent and dialect being my favourite regional vocal sound. I tweeted the image for the attention of @Pumpclip parade as I thought, despite Mordue's good branding image, it was just on the wrong side of the line for the overall good of beer. I got a couple of replies suggesting that it was generally clever and amusing, suggesting perhaps I overreacted. An interesting debate to have, where does the line exist? After all, I used to like Goblins, especially if they mocked lager drinkers, but not now, partly because I've found that given the right lager, I drink it.

In summary, the wider world thinks beer is either mass produced lager for drunken hooligans or "Real Ale" of invariably poor quality, brewed by good people with the right intentions, but with little flair or imagination, doing things on a shoe string, in sheds, for old fashioned, penny pinching, poor joke loving, deliberately fashion snubbing, anti-commerce ageing hippies2. Perhaps it is no wonder beer doesn't appear on the TV.


1He has failed to convince me that ketchup is a good accompaniment for double fried chips any more than anyone could convince me that shandy is a worthy beer cocktail, but there you go.

2and I realised, I probably fit into some of those descriptions too.


Neville Grundy said...

The joke in 'A'l Wheat Pet' is lost on me, unless it is a strained pun on 'all right pet', in which case the humour is of tabloid headline standard, not especially clever or amusing, but harmless in this instance I suppose.

I do get fed up with the stupid and sometimes sexist names applied to beer, as though drinking beer is just a laddish joke. Before anyone accuses me of having no sense of humour (a frequent response to the use of the word 'sexist'), just consider whether it makes any sense to market a product with a name that may alienate up to 50% of your potential customers.

'Beer' and 'ale' aren't opposed terms as you imply: 'beer' is the umbrella term and 'ale' is one type of beer and 'lager' another. Anyone who accuses you of being anti-CAMRA because you use the word 'beer' clearly hasn't a clue. But in reality, would anyone care enough to make an issue of it? I don't think so; you're anticipating opposition which has no reason to happen.

Owen said...

As a beer festival organiser I had occasion to discuss the promotion of the event with an advertising/PR person from a national brewery, who told me to promote my event I should get Miss Scotland in a bikini to open the event, and that my target demographic was 20-30 year old Sun-reading football fans.

If the advertising people for a famous national real ale brewery can be so wrong about who real ale appeals to, then is it any wonder the media aren't willing to cover it?

@RedNev "All right pet" in a North East English accent is pronounced "a'l reet pet", the only difference between that and the beer name being the r and w. It isn't at all strained.

Contrasting "ale" and "lager" as different types of "beer" is something of an oversimplification as well; an ale can be lagered. A beer produced with "lager yeast" might not be lagered. The beer world is not black and white, and there are no neat little pigeon holes.

Neville Grundy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
StringersBeer said...

No-one could call you "deliberately fashion snubbing" Dave.

Neville Grundy said...

Owen: the pun is strained because it won't work unless you change a consonant.

Yes, I know there is a tiny number of niche products that cross the boundaries of ale and lager, but seeing that what I said applies to nearly every ale and lager you'll buy in a pub, my general point is valid.

However, I wasn't analysing beer types, but explaining why Dave is unlikely to be called anti-CAMRA just because he uses the word 'beer' - 'ale' and 'beer' are not mutually exclusive terms.

I also wondered whether Dave was trying to provoke the response he anticipated in his post.

Curmudgeon said...

While not seeking to defend gross sexism, you've got to be careful you don't end up coming across all po-faced and saying there is no room for humour in beer marketing, and that it should be all about the heritage and the ingredients and the terroir. Many of the most memorable beer ads have been humorous.

Also if you're competing in the seasonal guest ale market, you have to have something that will grab people's attention.

Phil said...

Staying with your conclusion - among non-beer-drinkers, beer currently has two bad images & no good ones - I wondered what would have to happen to change this, & found myself thinking about urban regeneration. Lots of money has come into Manchester over the last 10-20 years; the effects on the fabric of the city centre are very visible and mostly positive. On the other hand, for regeneration to take hold means that after a while money isn't being injected into the area - it's being brought in by people who have lots of it & don't mind spending it. And that in turn means the creation of sizeable areas where you'll never hear a local accent, or find a cup of coffee for under £2.

Does the Revitalisation of Ale (CAMRA's original mission) necessarily involve the Gentrification of Beer? Dunno. Hope not. Suspect I'll be disappointed.

Neville Grundy said...

They're all your words, Curmudgeon, not mine: I've never said there was no room for humour in marketing beer, but I can only conclude from your comment that the only humour that you can envisage in beer promotion is sexist.

Curmudgeon said...

@RedNev: I fail to see how you conclude from my words that "the only humour that I can envisage in beer promotion is sexist."

I'm sure you find other things amusing beyond Ben Elton ranting about the evils of "Thatch" ;-)

Jeff Pickthall said...

"In summary, the wider world thinks beer is either mass produced lager for drunken hooligans or "Real Ale" of invariably poor quality, brewed by good people with the right intentions, but with little flair or imagination, doing things on a shoe string, in sheds, for old fashioned, penny pinching, poor joke loving, deliberately fashion snubbing, anti-commerce ageing hippies."

This bit is almost perfect. I would change "hippies" for "lefties".

Unknown said...

Nev, I would say that the consonant is barely pronounced by someone who has a strong NE accent. I don't think it's strained at all. But you understand why I pick up on it's problem; unless you are Geordie or know the accent well, it doesn't work. And that is probably OK if the beer stays in the immediate area.

As far as beer, ale and lager are concerned, the world of yeast cultivation is moving well beyond being able to define beer as either ale or lager. Some brewers are putting out "Real Ale" and calling it cask lager. I maintain that ale has a bad image only surpassed by the one attached to Rebekah Brooks. I suspect Rebekah will regain her credibility faster. My point is that beyond our own knowledgeable world, general beer consumers don't care what yeast is used to ferment the beer, it's about branding.

Stringers, you really do know how to insult me don't you.. I work very hard trying not to follow fashion, at least in the way I dress....

On the subject of humour, I think it is interesting how it develops over the years, and how various groups of people find different subject matters either hilarious or offensive.

Where the line is drawn is very much down to personal perception. As Mudgie points out, the seasonal guest market almost demands that treatment. Personally I'm not a great fan of exploring that avenue to gain market penetration, although I do have customers who would take more beer from me if I deployed that tactic. That market exists, I'm not sure I'm happy about that, especially as very often one beer is much the same as the last and the most significant change is the pumpclip, but perhaps there is room for it if that's what people want.

Phil, I know we will never agree on some things, but I'd start by questioning where you can get a decent coffee for under £2, in any city.

I have long thought that the beer world would benefit from some gentrification, not the whole beer world and due to the product's incredible ability for industrialisation there will always be mass produced low value sector. And a continuum in-between.

However, while wine critics can justify over £200 for a 750ml bottle of wine, and argue this is the reason that food goes better with wine, then beer has an uphill battle.

Cooking Lager said...

Why not use the term "pong" instead of "ale" in your marketing?

It would ensure your beer attracted a more urban street wise affluent demographic or summat, I'm sure.

Neville Grundy said...

Curmudgeon: I've never liked Ben Elton. He was a one-trick pony, whose one trick wasn't that good.

Jeff: another pedlar of contrived stereotypes!

Sat In A Pub said...

I'd start by questioning where you can get a decent coffee for under £2, in any city

One word: Wetherspoons.

beersiveknown said...

I was thinking the same Tyson!

I like a good pun on a pumpclip but there's no need for buxom wenches or innuendos in the 21st century

ChrisM said...

You just wait until Mordue release their rye beer, Rye Aye Man...!