The Ins and Outs of Beer-vertising: Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems

Posted on June 29th, 2010

On my last installment I looked at the troubling identities of women in beer commercials, and I ended by posing the question: how come we only see this type thing from the big, macrobrewers? How come Sam Adams, Stone, and Rogue never try to make me feel bad about myself?

Marketing to people’s insecurities is certainly part of a grand tradition, but in the craft beer world it’s simply not an option. As I suggested, I believe there a lot of factors that contribute to this difference, but for the moment, let’s just focus on three.

1.) Money:
Stop and think about the many beer commercials you’ve seen in your lifetime. I’m sure Bud, Miller and Coors all come to mind. Probably Molson and Fosters. Definitely Corona. Bass? Keystone? I thought so. What you may not know is that all of those beers (and lots more) are controlled by only two companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. These two companies control around 80% of the US beer market and consequently have a whole lot of money to throw around. But in the craft world the only company that can afford the hefty price tag of TV ad-time is Sam Adams – now the largest American-owned brewery in the U.S.

Since craft brew still accounts for only a tiny fraction of the market (around 4% in 2009) most of the ready funds of any craft brewery necessarily have to go into product development and simply trying to stay afloat. So instead of flashy TV commercials, the craft beer world relies on alternative, innovative, and (most importantly) affordable methods of getting their name out there: blogs, magazine ads, viral videos, reviews, word of mouth and social networking sites.

But why is it that in these alternate means of advertising we don’t see the same cartoonish gender stereotypes emerge? This leads me to my next point:

2.) Audience:
Maybe it’s a logical leap to assume that struggling, underdog craft beer companies are simply too nice to use gender stereotypes as a marketing ploy. It might even be true for all I know, but nice or not, benevolence really isn’t the issue here: power is. At the moment, craft beer companies have neither the money or the nationally-accepted clout to force an agenda on us. People don’t NEED to drink craft beer. Whereas the numerous brands belonging to the MillerCoors or the AB/Inbev families are available almost literally anywhere you go, craft beer is harder to find, it’s more expensive, it’s still something a little unfamiliar to a lot of beer drinkers out there.

With that in mind, many craft beer companies take the approach of educating, explaining, getting people interested in craft beer in the first place and in their brand in the second place. They have nothing invested in telling you what kind of consumer you are but instead telling you what kind of product they can offer you. Advertising in the craft community is almost a team sport, because if they get people interested the idea of craft beer, it helps everyone in the community.

3.) Community:
Despite the tiny market-share and the and constantly growing (1600 & counting!) number of micro-breweries in the U.S., there tends to be a spirit of camaraderie, creativity, innovation – even excitement – that pervades the craft beer industry. You only have go to one of the major craft beer festivals to get a sense of the relationships that develops between and amongst brewers and breweries. Sierra Nevada isn’t going to shame you into buying their product – they’re going to put out a carefully produced product and hope that people get interested in it.

In addition there’s a strong female presence within the craft beer community – drinkers, brewers, promoters, and enthusiasts in general. As we mentioned in a previous articles, there’s a strong community of female brewers with organizations like Women in Beer and the Pinkboots Society. Women are very actively in of the picture, and accordingly gender comes off the table as a bargaining chip.

All of these reasons not only make craft beer more appealing to women who don’t like to be pushed around but for men who don’t want to forced into the role of beer-swilling bro.