Category Archives: marketing

The Lure of Luxury, The Call of Craft?

Why do people buy ‘fancy beer’ — because it tastes better, or because it ‘signals’ status?

Psychologist Paul Bloom’s article ‘The Lure of Luxury‘ mentions beer only in passing — ‘the attractive stranger in a bar is aroused by your choice of beer’ — but anyone who’s been called a snob for drinking a £6 pint, or rolled their eyes at the glitzy packaging of a limited edition IPA, will get the relevance.

Dr Bloom sets out two opposing points of view:

  1. People want luxury goods because they look, feel or taste good — they give pleasure in and of themselves.
  2. Luxury goods are status symbol designed to impress others and signal ‘intelligence, ambition, and power’.

The truth, he argues, lies somewhere in between:

Now, only a philistine would deny Postrel’s point that some consumer preferences are aesthetic, even sensual. And only a rube would doubt that some people buy some luxury items to impress colleagues, competitors, spouses, and lovers. Perhaps we can divvy up the consumer world. An appreciation of beauty explains certain accessible and universal consumer pleasures—Postrel begins her book in Kabul after the Taliban fell, describing how the women there reveled in their freedom to possess burkas of different colors and to paint their nails—while signaling theory applies to the more extravagant purchases. A crimson burka? Aesthetics. A $30,000 watch? Signaling. Aristotle Onassis’s choice to upholster the bar stools in his yacht with whale foreskin? Definitely signaling.

He goes on to consider why an exact replica of an object isn’t as desirable as the real thing; why when people buy a celebrity’s jumper in a charity auction they don’t want it dry-cleaned first; and whether anyone needs six mechanical wrists to automatically wind their collection of Rolex watches.

Let’s attempt to translate those questions: Why do people continue to hunt down and pay through the nose for Westvleteren 12 when none but the most refined palates can tell it from St Bernardus Abt 12? Why is beer brewed under contract less appealing than otherwise? Does anyone need a £168 six-pack of beer?

When you choose a beer is it really ‘about flavour’ — the defensive cry of the craft beer drinker accused of extravagance — or something else? And, of course, something else might be fine, depending on your values, and the pleasure it brings is just as real.

We found Dr Bloom’s article via If you can’t be bothered to read it you can see him speaking on related topics at the TED Talks website.

Tasting and Market Research, 1966

In July 1966, an anonymous editorial in A Monthly Bulletin explained how breweries of the time carried out market research into beer.

AMB was a Reader’s Digest style magazine focusing on beer and pubs and was published by the Brewers’ Society. About 18 months ago, Martyn Cornell sent us his spare volumes (he retains a full set) and we’ve been going through them with a fine tooth comb lately while researching a Big Project which is how we came across this article:

If you are market-researching in beer, you cannot merely send your team out for the day to knock on every other door in a suburban street. For one thing the men, who are probably your main customers, will be out at work: for another, they will not appreciate your representatives calling while they are out to ply their wives with drink.

The author explains that market research begins with sales statistics and surveys distributed to ‘bartenders’ (those who think that word is a recent Americanism, take note) and customers, before moving on to taste tests:

In the early days of market research in beer, tasting tests were conducted rather tentatively. Perhaps at heart the researchers wondered whether, deprived of the guidance of labels, consumers might not be foxed by any two beers of the same colour. In fact, it has been found that consumers’ discrimination is good provided only that they are kept to the kind of beer — mild, bitter, or whatever — to which they are most accustomed.

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Red Storm Rising

‘Surely there must be a picture of one of these posters we can include?’ said our editor at Aurum when he read the passage about the campaign for Watney’s Red in Brew Britannia.

The ads were controversial because they used lookalikes resembling communist dictators to promote keg bitter — a (ahem…) left-field approach for a big Tory-supporting UK brewery. As a result, it was referred to in numerous articles and books from the 1970s, and much-mocked by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). So, yes, you’d think there would be some documentary evidence of its existence.

But, after much searching, the only image we could find to include in the book was this one, scanned from a contemporary magazine:

Watneys Red Army poster c.1972.

It gets the point across but it’s not one of the classics — where’s Fidel Castro? The snap of a billboard illustrating this article at Retrowow might have done the job but the web editor there didn’t know the source, we couldn’t track down ‘Edward Hahn’ ourselves, and couldn’t get access to a higher resolution copy, so that was a dead end.

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