Older readers will know I came into beer writing via a somewhat unlikely route.
I used to work in advertising, and one day I was appointed to work on the campaigns for Stella Artois and Heineken. I was responsible for strategy, and this entailed looking at trends and deeper dynamics in society and culture to establish the motivations behind the brand choices people made. When I had to do this with beer it completely captivated me and ignited an interest that went much deeper than what I had to do for the latest Stella ad. It ultimately led to me writing my first book, which in turn led to me developing a much broader love for and interest in beer.
When I tell this story at events or readings, it usually gets a good-natured chorus of booing and hissing. There’s a suspicion among many beer fans about marketing – in its purest form, the belief is that advertising brainwashes people to drink shit, bland commercial beer instead of interesting, quality beer produced by nice people. At best, there is at least a suspicion that many people choose beers for style over substance.
And to be fair, there is some truth in that. Back in the day we used to tell each other that people ‘drink the advertising’ – but only when the beers themselves were interchangeable and pretty much identical. Advertising can’t really persuade someone to drink standard lager instead of a microbrewed IPA if the standard lager doesn’t appeal to their tastebuds, but it can sure make you drink one standard lager instead of another.
Beer ads were the ads that made me want to in advertising in the first place. The ad below is the one that I talked about in all my interviews, and I still think that it’s a pretty perfect beer ad:
But if beer marketing was ever just about TV ads, it isn’t now, and won’t ever be again. Back when ‘Dambusters’ played there were only two commercial TV channels and you could be sure pretty much everyone in the target audience saw it. And regulations meant you could get away with outlandish claims so long as you were obviously joking about hose claims. One casualty of our binge drinking paranoia is that advertising regulatory authorities have lost their sense of humour.
Marketing in its broadest sense is, at worst, a necessary evil, and at best a great, positive addition to the experience of choosing and drinking beer. Whether we like it or not, we are a brand-literate, marketing savvy world these days. I regularly see great beers stymied by awful label designs. Branded, shaped glassware is at least as much about marketing as it is about enhancing the flavour of beer. And with more beers than ever before to choose from, we’ve got to find out information about them somehow. If a brewer chooses to impart some of this information themselves rather than rely entirely on crowd-sourced web reviews, that’s marketing. When a brewer chooses a bottle shape, designs a label, launches a website, hosts a meet the brewer event, issues a press release, tweets or blogs or sends a punk dwarf to petition parliament, that’s all marketing.
Beer marketers now have to be much smarter. The tightening regulation and the explosion of different media channels, not least social media, means it’s a much more complex game – but the playing field for that game is more level than it was. Simply having the biggest budget is not enough (if it ever was – remember Watney’s Red Barrel?)
This is why I was very excited indeed when two industry acquaintances approached me and asked if I would like to be involved in organising the inaugural Beer Marketing Awards. We have so, so many awards that celebrate the beer itself – and rightly so. But marketing should not and canot be ignored, and the best stuff deserves to be equally celebrated. If it takes off, it might even help raise the standard of the shit stuff.
And the joy of it is, it’s about the whole industry. If you’re AB-Inbev, we want to hear about the best TV ad you’ve made this year. If you’re Heineken, we want to know how proud you are of sponsoring the Olympics. If you’re Brew Dog we want to hear how successful your best PR stunt was. If you’re Magic Rock we want to hear about your Twitter presence. And if you’re Wye Valley, tell us about your label redesign. Huge or tiny, established or new, every brewer does marketing of some form or another, and there’s a category for everyone. Here’s the full list:
Best Advertising Campaign – Print
Best Advertising Campaign – Broadcast
Best use of Social Media
Best Public Relations Campaign
Best Branding / Design
Best use of Competitions
Best Integrated Campaign
Best Stunt / Guerrilla Marketing
Best Business to Business Campaign
Best use of Sponsorship
Best use of Merchandise
Outstanding Individual Achievement
We’re recruiting a panel of judges from the brewing, pub and creative marketing industries, as well as prominent beer writers and other industry figures. (Some brewers will doubtless be encouraged to hear that I won’t be judging myself – it’s incompatible with helping organise the event and encouraging entries.)
There will be a media launch at Craft Beer Co in London on 12th September. The competition is now open for entries, and you can enter here. Entries will close on 10th December, and the awards event will take place at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, on March 13th 2013. More details will be on the BMA website, which will now be updated on a regular basis with chat about beer marketing as well as details about the competition. If you’d like to sponsor one of the above awards, we’d love to hear from you.
I’m proud to be associated with this great idea. Whether you’re a brewer or drinker, we hope you’ll be as excited by it as we are.