Time Gentlemen, please

Posted on July 5, 2012


Last week Zak Avery tweeted Sophie Atherton, Melissa Cole and me a picture of  Robinson’s Dizzy Blonde, newly launched in bottle, no doubt expecting us to combust in a cloud of lavender scented, feminist rage.

Dizzy Blonde has been a big success for Robinson’s since its launch in 2007 and is currently enjoying 20% growth, in an on-trade market declining at 6% but it baffles me why they would resort to using a name that reinforces sexist stereotypes about beer and keeps it firmly stuck in the 70’s. Even more baffling is their own admission that “she’s known at the brewery as Peggy” , does that mean they’ve picked a name even they’re embarrassed by. It’s the first time I’ve heard anyone admit they call their own beer something else!

The facts are these; only 17% of beer in the UK is consumed by women (less than just about any other country in the world) and 79% of women never or rarely drink beer. I realise at this point outraged of Cornwall and Leeds will tell you “that’s bilge, my wife / mother / sister / all the women I know drink beer” but that’s because we are beer geeks. As is human nature we surround ourselves with like minded people, we go to beer geek pubs and we use our passion and knowledge to introduce women to beer that they would not normally try. That is fabulous but, sadly, it isn’t the norm. I challenge you to spend the night in your nearest All Bar One or Slug and Lettuce and, trust me, you’ll soon spot just how few women are drinking beer.

When asked what they would change about beer to make it more appealing the number one thing women would change is sexist beer marketing – and that includes crass pumpclips. Which is why I’m dumbfounded every time I see one appear. If we want beer to stop being treated like a down market commodity and make it more appealing to women this kind of crass approach to naming beer needs to be sent back to the 70’s where it belongs.

But it’s not just a feminist issue. Beer is nothing if not equal in its sexist, offensive beer branding and for every pint of Massive Knockers there’s someone serving a pint of Wafty Cranker or the especially offensive Beachy Head – Christmas Jumper (and many more atrocities you can find named and shamed over at Pump Clip Parade).

As the wonderfully erudite Mr Preston points out naming is hard (and he knows more than just about anyone on the subject) but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least give it ago rather than lazily appealing to the lowest common denominator and reinforcing the stereotype that beer is the sole preserve of fat, middle aged men with a penchant for flat caps and whippets. I have no doubt Dizzy Blonde is a good beer, Robinson’s are great brewers, their Old Tom is outstanding and a well deserved three times CAMRA Supreme Champion Winter Beer of Britain, but along with the Old Tarts and Crusty Knockers it’s a beer I would never choose. Why? Because the use of puerile naming to me looks thoughtless and lazy and if they’ve put such little thought into the presentation I, and I’m far from alone, would assume they’d applied the same lack of care and thought to the brewing.

I’ve said it before, it is NOT enough in today’s market to have just a great tasting beer. All too often I hear brewers being scathing about the efforts of marketing departments but you wouldn’t go to the barbers to get your teeth fixed now would you? The quality of a beer is the reason people buy a second, it’s the quality of the branding that makes most buy the first and for that you need creative expertise. You have to have the whole package if you want people to choose your beer over anyone else’s and that means paying the same attention to every detail – the beer AND the branding, if you expel all your creativity and budget inside the brewhouse that’s where the beer is likely to stay.

One final note of caution – if you do spend time and money on design and you produce something like this monstrosity, you’ve still got it VERY wrong. Luckily a prototype design but whoever at The Coolist described it as ” easily one of the best we’ve seen in the beer world, but it could also be one of the most inventive packaging designs we’ve seen in years” needs their head testing.