marketing pubs

No Logo

The blackboard at the Drapers.

One of the many interesting things about our local, The Drapers Arms micropub in Bristol, is the lack of branding for beers at the point of sale.

Instead of the customary row of hand-pumps with decorative pump-clips (which have grown bigger and fancier over the course of the past few decades) the Drapers has a rack of casks with beer names chalked on their black jackets, and a blackboard declaring the name, brewery, origin, style and ABV of each beer.

The pump-clips are there, actually, tacked on the wall behind the bar, along with those for beers coming soon, but a determined squint and spectacle push is required to discern any details. Most people, we suspect, think they’re just part of the decor.

The blackboard approach encourages certain unusual, quite pleasing behaviour. For one thing, people often ask each other for advice: “Excuse me — what’s that you’re on? It looks bloody good.” And we’ve never known a pub where tasters are so freely offered and  as gladly taken, and where such generous time is given to conversations about taste and preference.

Which brings us to our main point: the lack of obvious branding seems to push people — and certainly forces us — to focus on the beer.

We’ve always been quite open about the fact that, being human beings with a full suite of emotions, nurtured in late 20th century capitalist society, we are easily swayed by packaging and marketing. Of course we challenge ourselves and attempt to overcome this instinct to superficiality but if we’d seen this pump-clip, for example, we might have let our gaze pass over it in favour of something else:

Ramsbury Belapur pump-clip
SOURCE: Ramsbury Website.

It’s not bad but it doesn’t suggest that this beer is anything special. It’s a bit cheap and a bit staid. But at The Drapers, a level playing field for the graphically challenged brewery, we went for it, and were really glad we did. It’s a thoroughly decent beer we’ve had several times since, and Ramsbury have been added to our mental list of breweries always worth a go.

On the flipside, there are beers that, divorced from very smart graphic design and winning blurb, are easier to assess objectively. In plain brown wrappers it’s easier to discern that a slightly bland pale ale from a hip brewery taste much like a slightly bland pale ale from a micro-brewery founded in 1983.

We generally argue for more information rather than less (see tomorrow’s blog post) but somehow the omission of this particular type of information — the visual — really works for us.

9 replies on “No Logo”

‘Once upon a time there was no clip on the pump.’

But those generally pubs (often tied) sold a limited range from one brewery that never changed (until it was taken over and/or closed down) so drinkers always knew what to ask for. Not a bad thing necessarily and if you lived in an area dominated by one brewery I suppose that’s just what you drank.

I’m a sucker for clever marketing and much more likely to go for a beer with a well-designed pumpclip and vice-versa so I like this idea, and I’ve never come across the beer miles on a beer list before which I think is also a great idea.

This is common in the US, perhaps even the standard practice among craft-centric bars. While on balance I think it’s positive, it may not be great for less-known breweries. There’s a kind of commodification that appears to creep into the process when you’re just seeing text. Without the visual aid of the branding, it’s a lot harder to remember unfamiliar beer.

I think the artwork is all part and parcel of the experience of beers/ trying new beers. That said I had never thought of it in a negative way as you explained above more in a positive way. Personally I’d rather be presented with the full range (clips, %, name, style) before making my choice than have anything missing.

Personally I much prefer a prominent blackboard, which (particularly at busy times) saves peering round people sitting or standing at the bar to try and find out what is on, especially if there is more than one set of handpumps or the beer is dispensed in another bar (such as at the Great Western in Wolverhampton). The real issue is keeping boards up to date – it is not that unusual to find that your choice is unavailable since no-one altered the board when the barrel ran out, and then you may have a hurried rush to change the order (very inconvenient if buying a round and your friends are sat on the other side of the pub). Electronic displays to my mind are often clearer and should be easier to update, but seem rare. I have seen them in a Wetherspoons in Derby and possibly the Wellington in Birmingham, and also somewhere in Cardiff. Logos do have a use, but more as an aide-memoire to jog the memory if you can’t remember whether you have tried the beer/brewery before and what it was like.

I think that is still the case that, strictly speaking, it is illegal to offer goods for sale that are not available, whether relying on pumpclips or boards. Quite a few years ago I remember that Trading Standards prosecuted a pub in Bethnal Green for persistent breaches of this rule, but that is the only case that I can recall. Possibly the ‘coming soon’ signs that Wetherspoons display have an eye to this.

The Wellington definitely has an electronic board. Think it was the first I came across.
The Mad Squirrel outlets (currently four, plus their brewery tap) installed electronic displays recently. Theirs are tied in to Untappd. Should ask next time am in whether there’s a cost; or whether Untappd allows free use of the software, as it gives their website visual promotion?
Lack of the promotional branding seems to have become increasingly commonplace in ‘craft’ bars; many following (I suspect) the trend set by BrewDog. Obviously there, most beers are their own; but guests get the same treatment, merely added to the list on the wall and usually served from a bare tap.
Something brewers may need to consider, if this trend increases: how much is it worth spending on design and branding through point-of-sale clips at the bar if fewer customers ever get to see them?

Lack of promotional branding comes from American craft bars. Those that have regular beers have branded taps, but those who change them frequently have unbranded taps and just a blackboard.
The blackboard, though, has been in use in this country in ale houses for at least 35 years to my certain knowledge – The Duck and Drake in Leeds had one from the start. I’m not one who takes a lot of notice of branding (our old family business claimed to be “the originators of Theatrical Advertising”, which I always found amusing and hubristic, but also gave me the background to take advertising of any kind with a pinch of salt) and I often find it difficult to get a lot of info from pumpclips these days (although I love either classic or interesting ones); a board generally gives me the info I need to try a new beer.

It’s interesting how a side-effect of the rise of the “wall of keg taps” (as seen at eg the Euston Tap) has been to downplay the role of branding in draught environments, even as it’s become ever more important in smallpack. There’s an interesting wider question of how that trend meets the one from eg Cloudwater of making the brewery the brand and not the beer (Doom Bar being the classic example of the latter).

The Red Willow Tap had a home-made electronic board from (I think) when it opened 5 years ago; about 18 months ago it got hooked up to the internet, and then about 6 months ago they replaced it with an Untappd corporate membership (which is not free, Untappd need money and they consider that you’re advertising to their captive audience of beer geeks) – and after about 3 months they fixed the bugs so that the Untappd version now works as well as their old version! But as more places sign up to Untappd, it becomes pretty easy to put up a TV in the bar with the Untappd feed on – there’s a significant hidden workload in data entry for these things, but at least you can grab ABV etc from Untappd.

Don’t think it is illegal to offer for sale stuff that isn’t available, or at least it’s easy enough to disclaim it away in T&Cs. It is fraud to take money for stuff that isn’t available, or to charge higher prices than advertised. But there has to be some reasonable slack in the system – otherwise you could argue that a barrel emptying before a full pint has been poured is a breach of an implicit offer of a full pint.

Counterpoint: here’s something I wrote about Cafe Beermoth in Manchester a while back (the system hasn’t changed since).

Cafe Beermoth have an infuriating system of listing all their beers in a standard format in a row of plain signs above the taps on the back wall – a standard format which includes a.b.v., brewery and town of origin, but not style. Given that they tend to stock beers that are off the beaten track this inevitably results (for me at least) in an extended conversation with the bar staff, something like this:

“What can I get you?”
– Er… what kind of a beer is Drummond’s Deplorability?
“That’s an IPA.”
– Oh, OK. What’s the, er, Flintlock Don’t Come The Raw Prune?
“That’s a plum porter. Would you like a taster?”
Thinks: damn, plum, I could have guessed that…
– No, I’m fine. What’s the JSD Chasmatic?
[sigh] “…And that’s a stout. Is it a dark beer you’re after?”

It’s a lose-lose situation – the person behind the bar obviously thinks I’m a timewaster, and I end up giving in and getting a pint of the second or third thing they mention, whatever it is, just so as not to prolong the embarrassment.

Mind you, you also say that you’ve never known a pub where tasters are so freely offered … and where such generous time is given to conversations about taste and preference, which is very much not the case of Cafe B. in my experience. Tasters, yes, but offered very much as part of the process of helping the punter damn well make up his mind and order something.

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