The power of marketing

A couple of weeks ago in an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, writer Bill Virgin makes the following two claims:

Put samples of half a dozen or so mass-market American beers before a panel of drinkers in a blind taste test, and even the most confirmed quaffers would be lucky to match two to the right brand.

But put half a dozen or so mass-market American beer advertising slogans or jingles before a panel of testers, and even teetotalers with some exposure to media would come close to a perfect score.

He then offers six such slogans, which you’d pretty much have to have been in a coma for the entire television era to not know what they are. It is these slogans–these brands–that consumers are dedicated to, not the taste.

Oh, sure, beer drinkers will swear they can taste the difference between the brand they’re loyal to and Bud and Miller and Coors and Michelob and Pabst and Rainier and a dozen more beer brands. They can’t — which accounts for the success of the craft brews and microbrews, as well as the imports.

That might be a bit of a stretch, but is certainly a factor. (Of course, just because it is “craft beer” does not automatically make it good.)

Mr. Virgin cites two books to support his argument:

Both O’Hara and Yenne also credit regionalism, reflecting a time when each region of the country had its own dominant brands (such as the Northwest’s Rainier and Olympia, neither of which are brewed in the state today).

“Today’s craft beers and microbrews have rich and delicious flavors, as well as exquisite variety,” Yenne writes. “Today’s mass-marketed megabrews have enormous advertising budgets, ubiquitous market penetration, and a flavor-neutral taste. The great regional brands discussed in this volume had soul. … The beers themselves identified with their region, and in turn, the people identified with their regional brews.”

Of course, we’ve long felt that bland, megabrewed lagers are only popular because of enormous marketing campaigns. It’s also why they’re losing market share. Their message has become diluted, and people are moving away to not only craft beer, but wine, spirits, and cocktails. It’s kind of like sports teams nowadays. Very, very few players stay for very long, much less their entire career. There’s no time to develop a kinship with any player, especially since next season he may play for your rival. So, essentially, fans are rooting for the uniforms. Except they keep changing, too. (More merchandising opportunities.)

Don’t believe the hype.


Postscript: I suggest that any brewer that spends more on advertising and marketing than on actually creating the beer is not a craft brewer.