Marketing: the work of the devil?

According to some people, there are two big reasons for crappy industrial beer: bloody accountants and bloody marketing people.

Now, there are some things for which brewery marketing departments might deserve the blame: packaging that damages the product, both literally and in terms of its reputation; empty blandishments — “finest malt and hops”; “premium world lager”; “only four ingredients“; and gimmicky “innovations” forced upon sometimes unwilling brewers.

But can’t marketing, at it’s best, be a bridge between the specialised world of the brewer or beer geek and that of the as-yet unconverted? Like a kind of translator, perhaps.

“Naff marketing terms” might wind-up seasoned beer geeks but they can engage people’s interest in a product they might otherwise never notice or, worse, entirely dismiss. (And they do gain charm with the patina of age…)

Is the best marketing, in fact, a form of beervangelism?

24 thoughts on “Marketing: the work of the devil?”

  1. Everything a company does in order to get people to buy their wares is marketing. I don’t think anyone is against that. What bothers many people, though (and not only with beer) is that many times you are being sold a brand and not a product (and the empty gimmicks, of course).

  2. PF — agreed, and I think we’re instinctively warmer towards ‘sincere’ marketing, e.g. the head brewer Tweeting or blogging, perhaps with endearing typos, than towards the more polished stuff that comes out of an agency.

    Sometimes, though, you even have to feel sorry for marketing people who have no choice but to market the brand. If the beer is shite, what else can they do?

  3. I must admit that I can enjoy the marketing of even shite beers flogged by megamacromultinationalevilcorporations. It can be clever and often it’s not pretentious. I get irritated by the marketing that, for example, expects me to believe that Stella Artois is a “special” Belgian lager, when in reality is brewed in Prague (and it’s not that special to begin with), with all the pretentious bollocks that usually comes with it. And I get irritated just as much by silly marketing gimmicks of otherwise fine beers, perhaps even more, because they should know better.

    PS: I don’t blame the agencies, they do their job, it’s the brewery who’s to blame.

    1. I haven’t, but should, I guess. And it is true, it can be good, it can be even brilliant, some of the ads of Gambrinus are pretty cool, not to mention those of Kozel, I love them. Even Braník has a sensible marketing.

  4. It’s almost a shame that marketing is needed at all and a quality product can’t always shine against bigger budgets. There are some great examples of marketing though and the internet and social media has made it easier for smaller breweries to be creative in their marketing.

  5. Brewbie — there are a few cases where it doesn’t seem to be necessary. Unless they’re very subtle about it, Cantillon don’t seem to advertise, and have a global reputation based entirely on the quality and integrity of their products. So, it is possible!

    Kernel also seem to be doing very well based on word of mouth.

  6. Kernel and Cantillon also have very refined marketing. See the branding. It’s brilliant. It all relies on their reputation, but their branding also sells, if it didn’t, they would just stick on their bottles a white piece of paper written on MS Word. You don’t need an agency or massive budgets to do good, effective marketing.

  7. I guess we’re talking about passive vs. active marketing here? Cantillon have a solid, deliberately naieve brand, but they have yet to sponsor a Super Bowl.

    1. There’s marketing and there’s marketing. The likes of Bud Light need to sponsor the superbowl because they need to reach the widest possible audience. Kernel and Cantillon need to reach a niche and good branding can be more than enough for that.

    1. When I was at the uni our Communication teacher once said that you can’t not communicate. Even if you keep quiet, your are communicating the fact that you don’t want to say anything. Perhaps, something like that can applied to businesses and marketing, there’s no such thing as non-marketing, properly speaking.

  8. Marketing is as important in the brewing business as it is in any other business, and anyone in business who doesn’t think they need marketing is either very naive or stupid and won’t be in business very long. An interesting little factoid about marketing is that of the Fortune 500 companies prior to the big recession in the 1980s, the only companies to still be in the 500 after the recession were those that didn’t slash their marketing budget.

    1. That’s true, except for the very small number of businesses in whatever field with a blindingly brilliant unique selling point. If you’re selling similar products to a number of other companies, you need marketing (however you do it) just to keep your name in the public consciousness.

      1. And to always remember the golden rule of marketing/advertising – “the consumer is not an idiot, it’s your wife”. It really pisses me off when companies treat potential customers with disdain and puerile nonsense by suggesting they aren’t good enough to appreciate their products. It immediately makes me think, “in that case, you are not good enough for my money”.

  9. I’m a graphic designer in a marketing agency. This is a conversation I had with a customer last week:

    Client: I want you to double our prices and then put a slash through them and say 50% off all *products*.

    Me: Were the *products* ever sold at that price?

    Client: No.

    Me: Well then, you can’t.

    Client: I’m paying you to do this, so do it.

    Needless to say after a heated conversation about it being morally bankrupt, never mind illegal, he relented. Drilling down into the issue as to why the false price slashing was necessary it was easy to ascertain that he’s struggling to sell an inferior product in a very competitive, price-based market.

    My superiors did not back me up on this whatsoever and were happy to hoodwink potential customers to appease the client.

    The posts on here have been very civil towards marketing companies and their agents so far. I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that, after being in the industry for 15 years, they’re up there with estate agents, solicitors and bankers in what they’ll do for money.

    End rant.

    1. Maxwell — thanks for the insight.

      Guess I can’t get too angry at people doing what they have to do to keep their businesses afloat and people in work, as long as it’s legal and not totally immoral.

      “Hoodwinking” is a synonym for a big chunk of what the marketing industry does, isn’t it…?

  10. Folks get too worked up over marketing. If it’s good. Drink it. If it’s not, don’t. Sure marketing works sometimes, but it rarely has as lasting an effect as such trivialities as flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, etc.

    Of course, I tend to tune out marketing. I know what they’re doing. I’ll either appreciate it or not, but I’ll let my taste buds determine whether or not I’ll drink it again.

    As usual, good discussion starter!

  11. Yes, of course. Marketing is all about targeting new audiences, and not wearing out your current ‘fanbase’. There’s nothing different in my mind than a huge junket-type event (like the recent one where press/bloggers were sent to Ghent – I forget the name now) or the ‘twitter campaign’ that happened last night by Durham about thier White Stout. Would I have tried White Stout without the ‘event’ – yes. But maybe not *yesterday*. Surely all companies, no matter their USP, need to stay on top of their game, marketing – wise?

  12. As has been pointed out by others, “marketing” includes a lot of very diverse practices, so it’s difficult to make a blanket judgment as to whether it is “bad” or “good”. I know that Kernel has never done any “marketing” in the sense of traditional advertising, for example – they built their customer base almost solely on word of mouth. However. their beers are of course _branded_, and very cleverly, too.

    I like social marketing when I am given the opportunity to participate in some way, like the #whitestout virtual tasting event (though ironically, I did not participate in that particular campaign), or “meet the brewer”-type-events at beer bars – rather than marketing when I’m simply addressed as a passive spectator. It strikes me that since beer drinking is a social activity, it is eminently suitable for this type of marketing (cf the long history of beer festivals, which have of course always been important social marketing events), and indeed I see more and more breweries in the UK and elsewhere experiment more with this type of marketing (you can, for example, organize your own beer festival, like Mikkeller, Alvinne or De Molen, thereby marketing both yourself and craft beer in general).

    And it is of course a cliché, but the best form of marketing is simply making an excellent product (again, see Kernel).

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