Generalisations about beer culture marketing The Session

Session #112: The Secondary Beer Economy — Bought the T-Shirt

This month Carla Jean Lauter asks us to consider all those businesses that aren’t breweries but that support or surround the brewing industry.

Her announcement of the topic opens with this eyebrow-raising statement:

Last year, the total economic impact of the beer brewing industry in the state of Maine was approaching the same scale as the lobster industry. Let that sink in for a second.

What leaps out at us from Ms. Lauter’s post is the omission of pubs and off licences (bottle shops) which are not (usually) breweries but are a considerable step up in terms of fundamental importance from some of the examples she gives, e.g. a firm that makes fancy bottle-openers.

And that’s one way of cutting this:

  1. Businesses that are essential to drinking beer.
  2. Those that can enhance the enjoyment of beer.
  3. Parasitic businesses that add little or nothing.

Tempting as it is to spend the entire post ripping into number three — all the press releases we get about beer-flavoured soaps — we’re going to focus on something we think belongs in that middle section, even if at first glance it might seem classically parasitic: T-shirts and hats and the like.

CAMRA Boggle hats (1984) and Magic Rock bobble hat (2014)

We’ve always been impressed by Last Exit to Nowhere, a company that makes film-themed T-shirts, founded in 2007. What makes them unique is that, first, the shirts are actually nicely designed and, secondly, that they are relatively subtle. So, rather than walk around with I ♥ INDIANA JONES on your chest, you have this:

SOURCE: Last Exit to Nowhere website.

OK, so some people wearing that T-shirt are probably being faintly obnoxious — ‘Yah, you probably won’t get the reference…’ — but in the best cases, it’s a great way of signalling to other human beings that if they want to start a discussion about Dan Aykroyd’s cameo in ToD, you are up for it.

And so it is with beer.

If you see someone dressed in one of these…

SIMCOE w. hop flower design
SOURCE: Volla Brygghus.
SOURCE: Bear Flavored.

…you can be reasonably sure they’ll be up for a bit of a chat on the subject of American IPA or, er, the wild yeast they’ve caught.

It’s an invitation to human contact with a safe topic of conversation and some boundaries implied, which also allows people to assess the level of someone else’s knowledge, experience or level of enthusiasm at a glance.

That is, it can also help you work out who you don’t want to talk to as well, or as this 2007 research into fashion and ‘Identity Signalling’ put it:

People want to be similar and different… They want to converge as members of their own group but diverge from members of other social groups.

And yet… Where is the Last Exit to Nowhere for beer T-shirts in the UK? There are one-offs on stores like Etsy, and promotional products from breweries and brands, of varying degrees of naffness, but no one single really great shop we can recommend to people. It feels as if there’s an opportunity for someone in this.

PS. We’re hosting the next Session and the topic is ‘Mass Observation: The Pub and the People’. We’ll explain more in a blog post next week.