Often when we thought about beer commercials images of buxom girls with serving trays and rotund men in football jerseys were called to mind. For the longest time major brewers seemed to focus on selling beer for the big game, the epic bbq or a night out with the boys. In this vein, beer marketing had some memorable ad campaigns including the “I am Canadian” decrees from Molson and the Budweiser frogs. Essentially beer was being marketed as the nectar of the low brow, blue-collar, loveable guy next door but the reality is this image no longer fits modern beer drinkers (perhaps it never did).
The resurgence of interest in real ale has led to a new breed of beer drinker – the guy AND girl interested in quality of beer over quantity, the person interested in process as much as product and most importantly a general rejection of the same old same old in favour of challenging taste preconceptions and pushing brewing boundaries. To be fair I am not trying to disparage in any way the place of the familiar lager in anyone’s drinking rotation but rather I am trying to understand the changing nature of how beer is being presented to the masses. As craft beer enthusiasts steadily chip away a sizeable niche in the beer market how have the big brewers responded?
It seems to me we are witnessing an increasing amount of beer commercials keep to capture a portion of that lucrative craft beer market by touting the “craftiness” of their beers. For instance, my attention was first piqued by a commercial for Molson M equating the brewers at Molson with other artistic people such as dancers, tattoo professionals, chefs and graffiti artists. I have to admit the commercial has compelling imagery and a persuasive message –brewing is an art practiced by people who put their heart and soul into their creations. However, this message is problematic because it is coming from Molson, a highly industrialized brewer that mass-markets high volumes of beer that is essentially irradiated to always taste exactly the same.
Another example of this strategic marketing comes courtesy of Samuel Adams. Samuel Adams markets themselves as a craft brewer but at the same time the brewer was taken over by Anheuser-Busch in 2008 and is currently the largest domestically owned beer company in the United States. Letting these facts fall where they may I will let the reader draw their own conclusions. The reason I am drawing attention to Samuel Adams is their overt emphasis on the “craft” element of their beers. They have produced a whole series of commercials showing brewers contemplating over hops, waxing philosophical on brewing and promoting the need to “Take pride in your Beer”.
So where are the beer commercials from craft brewers? Is the advertising racket simply too cost-prohibitive for the small guy to step up and pitch their product? If this is the case how can we as real ale lovers ensure that beer drinkers do not become confused by this onslaught of faux-craft advertising pitched by the big brewers. Craft beer festivals are a great way to familiarize people with the incredible diversity of excellent beer out there as are the many pubs and restaurants that choose to put craft brews on tap. Will television marketing ever become a viable option for the little guy? If it does, does that detract from their portrayal as a craft brewer in the first place? Maybe the larger question from this whole situation is one of integrity – how to ensure that the growth and continued success of real ale will not compromise the quality fundamental to its very nature.