Pursuing females’ fancy: the beer industry’s quest to win over women

Michigan Beer Guide featured this article in their January/February 2012 issue, as part of a series I’m writing on Women & Craft Beer. This is the longer version of the article; you may read the published version at the Beer Guide website. It is reprinted with permission.

As any craft beer enthusiast or MBG reader can tell you, women – classy, intelligent women – do indeed enjoy drinking beer. Couple this fact with the statistic that, depending on who’s compiling the calculations, women make or influence 80 to 90 percent of all purchasing decisions, and it seems you have a no-brainer, all-win situation: market beer directly to women! And yet, beer marketing and advertising has traditionally focused on men, ignoring or objectifying women (or both). However, marketing gurus do, from time to time, get the bright idea to target women in their campaigns, with decidedly different outcomes.

Marketing beer directly to women may be somewhat of an anomaly, but it’s not a new idea. The history of beer and its promotion is long and fascinating, but let’s approach this scene after the end of Prohibition. Even then, a few savvy admen saw women as an untapped market. Exploiting the female trend to strive for slimness, Acme launched a campaign in the 1930s touting their beer as “dietetically non-fattening.” Although the ads featured illustrations of slim, pretty women that would be attractive to men, the message was aimed squarely at women.

During and after World War II, beer-marketing efforts directed at women really took off, with two different and quite opposing dynamics at play. First, as men left to fight during the War, more women were obliged to work outside of the home. Second, after the War, the mythical American family – featuring the hard-working husband, doting home-making wife and charming kids – was conceived and promoted. Both the confident, self-reliant persona attached to the first scenario and the compliant housewives connected with the later were featured in various campaigns.

A Miller High Life ad from 1952 depicts a poised female golfer who clearly makes her own decisions about how she spends her time and what she quaffs. However, ads featuring women as consummate wife and hostess are in far greater abundance. A 1950s series from Schlitz, united by the slogan, “If you like beer you’ll love Schliltz,” features beautiful, smiling ladies cheerfully carrying out their wifely duties, from fetching a tray of Pilsner glasses to hosting the perfect party to offering a cold one to a fly-fishing husband.

Bud also tapped into the ultimate hostess idea in 1956, with two women not necessarily enjoying beer themselves, but enviously gossiping about how their excellent hostess only serves Bud. A different, prolific campaign from Budweiser straddled both realms. The “Where there’s Life … there’s Bud” series prominently featured women; sometimes enjoying beer alongside a man, but also often having a beer poured for her by a man just outside the frame.

Let’s fast-forward through the next few decades, shall we? There’s no need to discuss (or display) here all the big-breasted, scantily-clad, suggestively-posed women who have decorated the ads for fizzy yellow fermented beverages over the years. Our common knowledge of this spectacle is the very thing that makes “marketing beer to women” noteworthy.

Recently, a few companies have seemingly “seen the light” once again, and so have devoted tremendous energy to capturing the female market. However, a glimpse at two specific endeavors may make female beer lovers cringe.

First up we have Animée from Molson Coors, launched in the UK in the fall of 2011 and available in three variants, including crisp rosé and zesty lemon. As the press release explains, this “lightly sparkling and finely filtered beer” aims to “make beer a real choice for women.” The result of input from over 30,000 women and two years of concentrated industry research, Animée beer and its brand plan are designed to be “feminine and sophisticated without being patronizing.” As a woman who enjoys beer and knows scores of others who do the same, this concept baffles me. Is another alco-pop really the answer to wooing women over to beer? I agree with Molson Coors that they, along with all brewers large and small, “need to repair the reputation of beer among women.” But is this the way to do it?

Next we have Chick Beer, “a beer just for women,” brewed and available in and around Maryland but hoping to take female drinkers across the country by storm. Because women certainly don’t want to carry a six-pack that looks like a six-pack, this beer comes in a hot-pink carrier disguised as a clutch, rimmed with faux bling. The font is sassy and full of curlicues, and the labels depict a little black dress, “just to be absolutely certain that no one could mistake it for dude beer,” as their website explains. Because all women hate calories, this beer has less than 100, but still tastes “soft, smooth and full-bodied.”

This type of marketing comes across to me as basic condescension, narrowly defining women as “chicks” who are predominantly concerned with appearances – just as ads with bikini-clad women pigeon-hole men. The notion of including women in the marketing of beer is a splendid one, but recent efforts such as these seem to only reinforce stereotypes and propagate the segregation that already exists.

Of course, these products and promotions aren’t geared toward women who already like beer; they’re trying to capture female attention. If a brew dreamed up exclusively for women serves as a “gateway” to real, craft beer, than I’m all for it. But honestly, I just don’t believe that products and advertising pandering directly to a woman’s “girlie side” will spark a revolution in female beer-drinking. And as Charlie Papazian put it in a HuffPost Denver article on Chick Beer in September 2011, “It seems quite contrary that if you want to attract anyone to beer – you offer them something that tastes less like beer.”

Women by and large may indeed be repelled by beer, due to its image and the way it’s been marketed; there is certainly room for growth in the “female beer drinker” market. The concepts that beer is a masculine drink and that all beer tastes the same are presumptions that it will certainly benefit marketers to dispel. However, flamboyant attempts to attract an isolated segment of the market seem like a backwards way to approach the situation.

The focus should be on integrating women, not singling them out. Exclusionary advertising might create a buzz in the short-term, but perhaps advertising should just be geared toward promoting a superior product to the entire community. Let’s have less sexism and gimmicky advertising, not more. We need campaigns that respect women simply by not objectifying them or ignoring them, and by offering true great taste to everyone.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice! I can see being intimidated or not wanting to start brewpubbing on your own, so it probably helps if you have girlfriends who can sort of ingratiate you into craft beer. Unfortunately, some of the nastiest, cattiest women I’ve ever met are “into” beer (not the female brewers…I’ve never met a bad brewer, male or female). Fortunately, I get along better w/ men and have more male friends (present company excluded, of course :)) and so I’m comfortable in the craft beer enviro….

  2. Fantastic article! I especially enjoy the last two points (1. to include women in craft beer, don’t give them a separate beer & 2. To get peope into beer, don’t give them something that tastes less like beer). Very well thought through!

    I don’t disagree with anything said here. I also believe that women can enjoy a craft beer as well or better than any man (Better since some recent studies show women have more highly elevated sensory perception that men). However, Coors did not base their beer, Animee, on stereotypes and Sex in the City marathons. They did research. Lots of it. They crafted a beer based on their discoveries.

    Do you think that the women surveyed actually, finally, have a beer designed on their direct input? Are they simply regurgitating what media and marketing gurus have told them they want? Are they attempting to be part of an “in group”?

    This research flies in the face of our common sense and that women should be able to appreciate a regular craft beer. Or is it simply that since the women surveyed apparently haven’t been exposed to “good craft beer,” that they might not even know what to ask for in the first place? Heck, were we all there once!

    Again, great article that raises a lot of great questions!


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