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Generalisations about beer culture marketing opinion

People like to deal with people

There’s nothing wrong with accountants, or making money, or expanding, or modern equipment, but the fact is that we find something unnerving about facelessness.

That’s especially true when it comes to things we’re going to eat or drink. At one extreme, there’s the cake your best friend bakes, decorates and brings to your birthday party; at the other, there’s Soylent Green.

We drink beer from big breweries all the time but, if we had a choice between two identical products, one made by a bloke called Dave who we could (virtually) look in the eye during our transaction, and another from Associated Global Beverages Ltd., we’d go for the former, like a shot. We might even pay a bit more for it. (Probably because of the looking-in-the-eye thing.)

Maybe we’re being mugs; maybe we’re falling for sinister anti-branding branding; and maybe we’re allowing fripperies to cloud what should be a clinical, emotionless appreciation of the beer itself, but, the fact is, we like the feeling of dealing with other human beings. It’s part of the pleasure.

In 1948, you bought a burger from the McDonald brothers. By 1960, you were buying ‘a McDonald’s™’. Carslberg is a beer brand which has, in the same way, become divorced from particular people or a specific place: it’s now a self-preserving, self-sustaining logo, pressing human beings to its service. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you drink its bland international pilsner.

When a big international company takes over a small brewery, it’s hard not to feel a bit sad, regardless of assurances that nothing will change, and despite stern lectures about perspective from those who are less soppy than us. Sorry, we’re just wet like that.

12 replies on “People like to deal with people”

I have an optimism regarding the growth of smaller breweries bringing something amazing to the masses- if the product genuinely stays the same, and the passion that spiked off the business in the first place is still there, I think it is a good thing (I know… I may be suffering from delusional idealsim…). It gets more people interested.

That does come at a cost though. The 1:1 interaction, the buzz from getting your hands on a beer that isn’t widely available. The ability to ask a question about a beer, and get a direct reply.

I’ll stop before I talk myself out of my argument!

Didn’t I read somewhere that there are almost 200 more new breweries since the last Good Beer Guide was published? That’s only 8 months or so.

Unless I imagined that. You know looking again at the figure I probably did.

I’ll get my coat.

It does feel like there are two or three new ones every week, based just on the follows we get on Twitter.

“Hi, there. Fooled you. You’re talking to a global beer brand. But don’t be shy. It’s OK. Bland international pilsners need love too, so talk to it…”
— Megabrewery social media strategy

It’s an odd thing that in beer success and expansion is seen as a bad thing. There seems to be an assumption that when a big brewer acquires a smaller one their first step is to send in the dementors to suck the soul, passion and creativity from the little guys so they can all brew fizzy disco piss forever more.

I didn’t see Stuart Howe talk at the bloggers do but Sharp’s is a great example of a big brewer providing the funds and resource to continue to do what they do and everything I’ve seen suggests Stuart made exactly that point. And they’ve launched a new range of exclusive beers that wouldn’t have been possible without the pocket money from their new parents.

The Dave’s don’t disappear, the passion for beer is still there. Take Jo Dring at Carlsberg , a real person doing a great job. I’m sure you can ask her anything you like and equally sure she’s not alone at Carlsberg in putting a face to the business.

Don’t assume all big breweries are faceless, it’s often not true and not fair – big brewery people like to be treated like people too!

We don’t think expansion is a bad thing. We’re not even saying takeovers are bad, necessarily. We are specifically not making the assumption you’ve suggested above re: ‘disco piss’ — just that past experience suggests that, eventually, for all the good intentions in the world, things will eventually change. Big organisations are far less inclined to let sentiment (which is basically what we’re talking about) inform their business decisions.

We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Doom Bar being brewed in, say, the Midlands by 2020. It’s Cornishness is a selling point but if “good honest broadband from Yorkshire” (great selling point) can be rebranded overnight as “broadband with a northern bloke in the advert”, and Newcastle Brown can leave Newcastle, then that could be managed.

And of course we know real people work at Carlsberg, but who designs (manages?) the recipes and the brewing process in the UK? And what impact do they, or can they hope to have, on the product? If they leave, does the beer change?

The odd outward-looking PR people aside, the ‘faces’ of most big brewers are their CEOs, who we’ve occasionally seen pop up in suits at conferences to talk at length about their ‘portfolio of leisure beverages’…

Did you just say PR people are odd :oP

There’s an interesting point about location worthy of a separate post – how much does a beer (or anything) lose it’s identity if production moves and does that matter?

It doesn’t necessarily matter in terms of the product but, however hard the breweries spin freshness, etc., it does matter on an emotional level.

Look how hard it is for a football team to move cities for an example. As people become ‘fans’ of breweries (emotionally invested) rather than just consumers, they’ll feel betrayed when values they’ve bought into (e.g. Cornishness) are compromised.

Feel the same way (if I were a better writer I probably would have written the same exact thing… except with an American brewery reference and not Carlsberg). Just give the buy outs time… certainly more then a year… a decade or so, once the majority of the pre-buy out staff have moved on.

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