Saturday, February 2, 2008

Aren't we free to be you and me?


Anyone who's had more than small-talk conversation with me knows that I get touchy when women and men are herded into different camps. "The only difference between women and men is that one can gestate offspring inside the body and one can't," is my usual response. Drawing lines other that that worries me. Such delineations imply limitations that I find dangerous and sad.

As a business woman in the craft beer industry, I know that women are as active on a professional level as men. See Teri Fahrendorf, Julia Herz (Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association) Deb Carey, and many others (scroll to the bottom for a list of female pro brewers). To say that only men are into craft beer is as ridiculous as saying that only men are into sushi.

But I can't argue with the data or my own experience. Festivals and events are largely populated by men. The headlining article of the January/February 2008 New Brewer magazine focuses on marketing brewpub craft beer to women. And while we're active in professional craft brewing, women don't tip the scales statistically in the industry. Baffled, Doug and I keep our eyes and ears open for clues as to reasons behind the gender divide in craft beer.

Recently, Doug pointed me to brewvana, an excellent beer blog written by a guy named J. Wilson. Wilson was also curious about the perceived difference between men and women where craft beer is concerned. Being a doer rather than a chin-scratcher, he gathered 6 women of varying ages for a beer tasting. He thoughtfully sampled 6 beers with different flavor profiles and got the participants talking about what they liked and disliked about each beer. You can read his M.O. and results here.

Right off the top, Wilson points out that industrial beers don't market themselves to women. To be sure. The idea that you'll win yourself a cheap trophy in the form of a cute girl with a bodacious figure by drinking swill cut with corn is beyond delusional. Let's just add that reason to the sky-high pile of reasons that industrial beer sales increase less than 3% each year. I would propose that this type of marketing doesn't even work with fellas anymore, if it ever really did.

We were recently advised by a potential investor to rustle us up some "Metro girls" to send out to the bars to market Metro beer. We explained to him that craft beer doesn't work that way. You occasionally find a craft beer ad that features a girlie with the titties burgeoning from a spaghetti-strap tank top, but this is rare. At the 2007 Great Taste of the Midwest, one brewery featured a burlesque dancer who stripped down to pasties and hot pants, but this was a temporary diversion in an otherwise focused day of learning about and drinking lots of craft beer.

Doug and I have been studying the craft beer industry for more than 30 years collectively. We can tell you without a shred of doubt that craft beer drinkers are intrigued by great tasting beer rather than the promise of any external, perceived pleasures that might appear as the result of drinking beer. Craft beer drinkers get riled up over a wide variety of choices, beers brewed with quality and purpose, and if you want to get into marketing, we like campaigns that are clever, intelligent, risky, and fun. More specifically, we like campaigns that spend a little time telling us about the beer.

Craft beer folks know a lot about beer. We know beer's ingredients, we know how to pair it with food, we know it's history. The best way to market to us is by educating us about how a beer is made. Informing us about the entire line of brews that are available is the way to hook us. As one participant in Wilson's tasting group said, "Point blank, breweries could do a better job explaining their different beers in their commercials." Melissa Cole, freelance food & drink writer and committee member of the British Guild of Beer Writers, states in her blog, "I've been thinking about how to further explain why it's pointless 'marketing' beer at women when education is the way forward." Is it really so radical to propose that craft beer is marketed as... beer that is hand-crafted? I'll bet we could dismiss any notion of inspiring women to drink craft beer and focus on getting just plain everyone to drink craft beer.

While it certainly doesn't help, I don't think stale-minded advertising is entirely the reason behind the weird gender thing with regard to craft beer. The way we communicate with each other, one on one, also matters. Doug and I drove up to a new brewpub in northern IL for a little research (we truly love our jobs). We ordered the first round, Doug ordered the K├Âlsch and I ordered the Czech Pils. The waitress exclaimed at my choice, "Oh, usually girls order the lighter beers and guys like the hoppier beers." Groan. I told you before, I get touchy at crap like this and I did tell her what I thought of her comment. Oh, and on the topic of waiting tables, don't comment on what people drink. It's rude, newb.

Melissa Cole writes in another blog entry about a beer that was designed by, and for, women: "I must point out that the beer will have "curvaceous" branded glasses – with a daisy on them. I’m sorry, but I’m not a buyer of this either because I can’t see a lot of blokes drinking from a pretty flowery glass and why should they be excluded?

Just as women shouldn’t be kept from enjoying beer by ridiculous social mores, why should men be told, albeit subliminally by the chintzy nature of the receptacle, they can’t drink this product either?"

I propose we dispense with all the sexist put-down - flowers and fruit for girls, footballs and dirt for boys - when it comes to marketing, brewing, discussing, advertising, and sharing craft beer. Perhaps if we tune out that noise, the tasty praises of craft beer will be heard more clearly by everyone.

3 comments:

Leah` said...

I think there's something to be said for marketing differently to women just because they've been ignored for so long. Marketing in a way that acknowledges that women aren't traditionally into beer could be really lucrative. But I think that has to be done without dumbing it down - since women aren't stupid and can see through that crap. Which basically means I entirely agree with you, I just think that women would like beer a lot more if they didn't think of it as a man thing. Which may require some specialized marketing.

I think the hardest part though, is that it starts so early. It's hard to find baby girl clothing that's not pink, and baby boy clothing is covered in balls (heh). A craft brewery's marketing campaign can't fix all that!

Russ said...

I'm offended that the waitress said all guys like hoppy beers. Up with malt!

Chris said...

Aran and I have been discussing brewing "Male Ale" for the rainbow crowd.

No, not really.

We do have a beer coming out in June called "La Fem" named after the all-female Nicaraguan coffee cooperative from whom we are procuring our beans. That's not so bad is it?