design Generalisations about beer culture real ale

Smutty pumpclips: no thanks

We wrote this for the head-to-head feature in the most recent issue of CAMRA’s BEER magazine. You can read Simon “Reluctant Scooper” Johnson’s argument in favour of “Ginger Tosser” et al over at his blog. This is the unedited text we sent them with never-seen-before deleted scenes and bloopers a few extra sentences. If this kind of dynamite material doesn’t convince you to join CAMRA just to get the magazine, nothing will…

Smutty pumpclips with badly-rendered ‘busty wenches’ and willy-waving vicars do nobody any favours. They don’t sell beer. They rarely, if ever, make anyone laugh. And, perhaps worst of all, they give the knockers another stick with which to beat beer and those who drink it.

Wine producers don’t market their lovingly crafted, artisanal products this way because they know they deserve to be taken seriously. Nor, for that matter, do German breweries, of any size. Perhaps British ale brewers are naturally self-deprecating?

Smutty pumpclip apologists will say that it is po-faced and middle-class to complain about them (as if the middle-classes have a monopoly on good taste). They will also argue that a ‘wacky’ pumpclip does sell beer. They argue that it grabs attention at the point of sale and so, for minimal outlay, helps the little man stand-up to the giant marketing budgets of the bigger breweries. Yes, the occasional pint of a rudely named beer might sell on novelty value, but that won’t win longer term converts. People watched the Carry On films, for a while, but they didn’t save the British film industry.

The long-term survival of good beer, and especially cask ale, depends on it being accepted as a mainstream product for men and women with discerning taste (like free range meat or good cheese) rather than a niche product for a small number of punning oddballs.

Think about Thornbridge’s pumps and their success in competing for attention on the pub bar. Their simple, colourful, contemporary design stands out from the competition without being the graphic equivalent of Colin Hunt, the attention-seeking office joker from The Fast Show. It doesn’t offend or embarrass anyone and, importantly, appeals to people who might not normally consider drinking ale.

We’re going to put more words into the mouths of those imaginary critics: “This is superficial nonsense! It doesn’t matter what the pumpclip looks like, or what the beer is called, only how it tastes.” But it does matter. Even before we’ve tasted a pint, the way it looks in the glass, its name, provenance and, yes, the image on the pumpclip, are stimulating the pleasure centres of our brains. They say you eat with your eyes and we think the same is true of drinking beer.

Or not. One particular turn off for us is when beers have names that refer to urine. Seriously, who wants to be thinking about wee when they lift that glass to their lips?

12 replies on “Smutty pumpclips: no thanks”

I wonder if there is a connection between the size of a brewery and the smuttiness of the beer names and pump clips, come to think of it, any form of marketing material.

I am yet to see a brewery that has concepts of smut equivalent to that of a GCSE student (whatever they call it these days) and a well executed website.

Without well designed marketing materials fewer people will take a company seriously, especially in the internet age where the first point of contact is often a result in a Google search, regardless of the quality of the beer in the glass.

Microbrewer: “We’d like you to design our pump clips and branding.”

Designer: “OK”

Microbrewer: “We can’t pay you though. Think of it as advertising”

Designer: “On yer bike”.

Microbrewer: “OK. I’ll get me brother to do it. He’s got a PC. Derek – knock us up a label for Rancid Old Jizz will you?”.

I suspect you don’t find this scenario in the US much.

That’s probably because the ATF rules on what is acceptable with regards to brand naming and labelling are so strict. Not to mention that you also have to deal with different state level regulations, which caused Flying Dog some headaches recently.

Classy Pump Clip Classy beer is my thinking, Tacky pump clip tacky beer. Not necessarily true but thats how my brain works at the bar.

I love both your blogs, but I’m with you on this 100%. And I have to be honest, I don’t buy Scoop’s defence at all – doesn’t sound convincing to me one bit.

I agree totally.

However I have been starting to wonder about your identity. I mean Tandleman went under his real name when he went head to head. But you kept the veneer of internet secrecy. Conspiracy theories abound!


Ant — that’s what makes it all the more impressive — any old mug can argue smutty pumpclips are naff, cos they are. Takes a real writer to defend the contrary position!

KHM — what’s one of the theories? (Trust me, it can’t be possibly be as boring as the truth.)

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