Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Which Came First, the Chick or the Beer?

I hadn't planned on discussing this much via the blog, since a few friends in the industry have already weighed in with some great points (see Top Fermented and Food Sweat & Beers). But then Monday morning, I sat down with my cup of coffee and saw this article, which leads me to believe this recent trend of misled "feminization" of craft beer may be starting to get some roots. So what the hell, I'll throw in my two cents.

First off, in most cases, I'm opposed to the idea of just about anything being marketed as "women-friendly" (and full disclosure, until recently, I owned a small design & marketing company in Apex, NC for about a decade—whether that works in my favor or against is, I guess, up to you). Most women I know can take care of themselves without being coddled with some watered-down (literally, in the case of "girl beer") softened version of what "us tough guys" like to enjoy. I personally know some bad-ass chicks with great taste in beer (and on the flip side, I know plenty of guys whose libation of choice is Coors Light), and the same people, whether they wear heels or not, that will pick up a six-pack of Chick Beer are the same ones who step up to the bar to order a Michelob Ultra without even asking what's on tap. Certainly nothing wrong with that (I'm an equal-opportunity beer lover), but I don't hear too many women complaining about how their beloved Mich Ultra is giving them gas on a nightly basis and wish someone would come out with some other "delicious beer that was ya know, sorta like Bud 55, but, you know, like… less bubbly, kinda? Tee, hee, hee…".

Not to mention the name. I get it, I do. You're throwing it back in the face of the folks who refer to light, lousy, watered-down beer as "chick beer". Ha, ha. So if that's actually the case, why then did you decide to produce yet another light, lousy, watered-down beer and slap this ever-so-witty name on it? Oops. Looks like you fell backward into the hole you just dug.

The way I see it, these decisions, in general, are usually made just like you might picture: at polished tables full of Marketing People®, who shove a bunch of what other polls tell them is "beer" in front of an Optimally Diverse® group of females, then ask them all questions afterward (either that, or someone without a clue comes up with an idea they think is awesome, and no one tells them otherwise, for whatever reason). "This one doesn't like dark beer, so Our New Product® should be light." "This one has gas, so let's make Our New Product® less carbonated". That sorta thing. Most boardrooms' marketing decisions are based on stats and surveys (even, sadly, on a smaller firm's basis) or even worse, the client's whims, instead of common sense, creative experience or real guts. Of course, it's much easier for a small brewery to try a batch of something interesting, market it toward women (if and however they decide to do so), and then figure out whether it's a success or not. Or even better, most small craft brewers I know just make good beer that PEOPLE love, no matter how many X chromosomes they may have been born with.

When we open next year, Haw River Farmhouse Ales intends to brew Belgian- and French-style beers (with a little Southern flair, of course), many of which may appeal more toward women than others (our flagship Saison is delicious, ladies!). If the Ad Wizards that came up with Chick Beer would have looked into actual existing styles of craft beer and who enjoys actually drinking them (or hell, I don't know… off the top of my head, walk around GABF for a couple days with a list of all the vendors' offerings and ask those of the fairer sex which they consider their favorite), they might be onto something. I know plenty of women that will choose a Bell's Oarsman or a Dogfish Head Festina Peche over a MGD64 any ol' day, so why couldn't Chick Beer be based on a Berliner Weisse, for example?

I don't have the stats in front of me, but if I had to guess, I'd say that more women drink wine than men. So instead of targeting a portion of the potential craft beer market that happen to be women, why not reach those same customers by targeting your campaign to wine drinkers? Or recreational runners? Or teachers? Or graphic designers? Some of these might seem silly, but you get the idea: they're all areas where the percentages of women either exceed those of men, have increased greatly in the past few decades, or at least outweigh the current market segment women hold within the craft beer audience (which, according to Chick Beer, is 25% of all craft beer drinkers). By treating women like, you know, actual people who have interests and judgement, you can target the women for which you're aiming, but without speaking down to them or playing into the (already) tired cliche of pink bottles filled with flat, flavorless beer.

Sit tight, gals. We're planning to open Haw River's doors next Memorial Day, and we'll have plenty of great beer I think you'll like. Although it probably won't have strawberries floating in it… is that okay?


  1. Drats, no strawberries!

    But really, great post, I've been loving to hear everyone in the area weigh in on the matter. I distinctly remember the first night I ever tried beer, it was the watered down crap... But despite that, I weathered the "storm" of swill and found some tasty brews. I think chick beer's underestimating us ladies.

  2. As a former women's college rugby player, I can vouch for the stout-beer-lovingness of women who aren't afraid of dirt, blood, and broken bones. My college team was (unofficially) sponsored by a bar across the street from the school, and there wasn't a one of us that didn't master the art of pouring a perfect Guinness from their taps with the back of a spoon. We had light beer drinkers in the ranks (and some non-beer drinkers too), but the point is that preferences ran the gambit, so no stereotypes allowed on the rugby field.