Beer marketers and their PR teams always seem to get a little hurt when we write unfavourably about their hyperbolic media releases or their marketing campaigns. So much so that Australian Brews News seems to have fallen off a number of invite and media release distribution lists of late. Where we have remained on the list, the emails are often couched in terms of, “I know X beer isn’t your cup of tea, but I thought I’d keep you updated about what’s happening.”
It’s curious, but I’d be hard pressed to find an article on Brews News that actually disparages any beer itself. It’s the marketing that we have a go at. Even with Crown Lager, I have written embarrasingly glowingly about CUB’s efforts with Ambassador and even expressed hope that the launch of Crown Lager on Tap would succeed. Although it seems to have failed.
If you’ve ever wondered why we might be less than charitable to beer marketing on occasion, it is because of the incredible cynicism that it shows, often to sell a single brand irrespective of potential damage for the wider beer market. I was emailed this photo (right) this morning, an image for what I understand is to be Stella’s Christmas campaign. It could almost be the poster child for this approach.
Leaving aside the claims about it being a Christmas beer, the use of ‘crafted’ in the copy is head-explodingly cynical. The whole idea of what is ‘craft beer’ is, as we have discussed, cloudy at best. For the most part consumers don’t really care about technical definitions of craft beer and don’t give it too much thought. But the very deliberate use of ‘crafted’ in the copy is designed to hint to casual consumers that this is what craft beer is, while giving the world’s largest brewer plausible deniability by being able to say, “we never described it as craft beer”. That is pure cynicism.
The real damage to the beer market though is that it has the capacity to confirm perceptions about what beer is.
One of the perceptions about beer that I pick up most often at tastings is that all beer is pretty much the same. People, particularly women, who have tried XXXX, VB, Tooheys, Becks, Stella and Heineken and haven’t liked it have decided that they don’t like “beer”.
They haven’t said to themselves, “I don’t like bland, slightly bitter lagers,” they decide they don’t like the entire category of beer. They have been told through the advertising that these very similar beers are actually all very different, but at the same time through the market dominance of the one style of beer see these lagers as being all that beer can be.
Even with its enormous diversity, craft beer is a miniscule part of the beer market, but it has shown the capacity to get people to think differently about what beer is and to shake off some of the old perceptions about beer. In a declining beer market it has actually shown the capacity to introduce non-beer drinkers to the category.
For a brand like Stella to try to paint itself as being craft through very creative and highly cynical copy writing is to lay a very deliberate shit in the pool of craft beer. It is a deliberate attempt to blur the lines of what craft beer is, just for the sake of a few sales points for one brand while soiling the one segment that can actually lead to category growth.
British beer writer Pete Brown has written about this same thing recently, but has written widely about Stella, having once worked on its marketing for it. You should read his thoughts on the increasingly hollow brand starting with this one.