Beer: liquid sex, or substitute for soup?

William Schlackman was an American psychologist specialising in attention grabbing market research projects carried out on behalf of big companies. In 1966 he suggested that, for English drinkers, beer was a substitute for sex.

We’ve struggled to track down a copy of the research report itself which is, uh, frustrating, but there’s a summary of its contents in A Monthly Bulletin for January 1967:

At the superficial Freudian level of the unconscious mind, beer-drinking was found, incredibly, to be equated with sex. More profound research revealed this equation with sex to be but a defence enabling the beer-drinker to deny his true motivation… Hunger, the psychologists pointed out, is strong enough in primitive man to stimulate the hunt and the kill. In primitive man, in other words, hunger is overtly a more powerful drive than sex… It comes as a surprise to most of us to learn from the leader of the brewery’s research team, William Schlackman, an American doctor, that what a beer-drinker feels when opening time approaches “is the primitive tension of the hunt.” In civilised man, as in primitive man, “it may outweigh the sex drive.”

The Daily Mirror also picked up the story, quoting Schlackman extensively. Here’s a clearer explanation of his point about beer and sex, in his own words:

The regular drinker puts his love life secondary to his pub life, which is the real reason why so many marriages founder over drink… Confirmed drinkers are rarely womanisers. In fact, they are often hostile to women and to pubs that encourage women’s custom.

So beer displaces sex – got it.

The Mirror article also picks up on a suggestion by Schlackman that the particularly British taste for “tepid” ale rather than cold lager was because…

Beer, which traditionally even schoolboys used to drink for breakfast, subconsciously bears an image very close to that of soup.

Schlackman’s research team came up with a set of personality types matched to beer preference:

The typical draught-bitter drinker was a farm worker on his way home from the plough-field… The mild-and-bitter drinker: A 50-year-old underpaid clerk, dreaming of winning the pools… The Bass and Worthington drinker: A hairy-chested docker… One of the interviewed people though that the typical Bass drinker would probably be a wife-beater, too.

That’s one of those startling statements that makes clear just how much the perception of brands and types of beer can change over the course of decades.

Of course, this should all be taken with a pinch of salt: this kind of pop Freudian analysis has rather gone out of fashion. In 1969, Schlackman suggested that English people liked tea because it reminded them of home, mother and the womb, which says it all, really.

You can read more about William Schlackman and how he ended up living and working in London this obituary – he died in May at the age of 88.

Only Watney’s could be so bold

Can you see spot what drew us to the tatty old postcard of Main Street, Haworth, West Yorkshire, from the 1960s, reproduced above?

That’s right – it’s the advertisement for Watney’s, neatly camouflaged against the brick wall to the left, above a yellow enamel sign advertising St Bruno tobacco.

This particular Watney’s ad campaign ran from as early as 1937, as explained by Ron Pattinson here, along with details of why this design was so successful. Ron also provides a lovely image of the poster which we’ve taken the liberty of nicking:

What we want is Watneys
SOURCE: Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.

The really interesting thing about the postcard, though, is that this poster should have appeared in Yorkshire, 200 miles from the brewery’s home in London.

In the 1960s, Watney’s grew and took over regional breweries around the UK. It took over Beverley Brothers of Wakefield in 1967 and began investing in Webster’s of Halifax at around the same time, taking it over completely in 1972.

So the poster in the postcard is a symbol of the arrival of national brands, and of the homogenisation of beer that triggered the founding of the Campaign for Real Ale in the 1970s.

But it’s not all one-sided: if you look closely, you might be able to pick out a small enamel sign advertising Tetley’s next to the Watney’s poster. That, too, would become a national brand, taking a taste of Yorkshire to the rest of the country.

Guinness: a nice, interesting drink for nice, interesting women, 1977-79

In 1977-78, grappling with falling sales and quality problems, Guinness commissioned yet another marketing strategy in the hope of turning things around. One idea was to appeal to young women.

We’ve just finished scanning and cataloguing the collection of Guinness material we wrote about a few times last year. These marketing strategy documents (there are several) are full of fascinating details, not least in the annotations in pencil by (we assumed from context) Alan Coxon, the head brewer at Park Royal to whom these documents belonged.

Here’s what the 1977-78 document says under ‘Strategy & Objectives – Women’:

i) To recruit to more regular drinking the younger female drinker who identifies with the assurance, maturity and independence associated with Guinness for women.

ii) To reduce defection from Guinness by reinforcing the loyalty of existing frequent and less frequent users.

The second group were likely to be ‘older and poorer’, the kind of people who’d traditionally drunk Guinness, but the other group were a new target:

[Younger], socially active and better off. Guinness may already be a part of their drinking repertoire, though remote. These are likely to be C1 C2 women aged 25 to 44.

Here, though, Alan Coxon had some thoughts of his own, neatly marked in the margin:

I just do not believe in the possibility of this. It is not a young woman’s drink, surely. If we get it right it will have the wrong image for young women & surely we cannot expect them to like it!!

The proposed creative approach for appealing to young women was interesting, too, based on ‘the correct blending of four key elements’:

i) The user-image of a self-assured woman who is independent, sociable and healthy; equally at ease in both a man’s and woman’s world.

ii) The product as a unique, attractive, long drink, natural and enjoyable.

iii) The mood as one of relaxed and sociable enjoyment.

iv) The quality and style of the advertising as attractive, credible and contemporary (rather than fashionable or trendy).

The brand position reached as a result of this creative approach should be:

“Guinness is the drink for the self-assured woman.”

Finally, there were suggestions on how to reach women. With television reserved for male-orientated adverts, the idea was to place ads targeting women in magazines – ‘their personal medium’.

How did all this go? Fortunately, we have some handy follow-up information, from the next year’s marketing plan, covering 1978-79. It suggests that double-page spreads did run in women’s magazines (we’d love to track some of these down) and that they were felt to be successful enough to continue with.

An amusing punchline, though, is a restatement of the marketing objective:

The primary task of the advertising is to change attitudes about the kind of woman who drinks Guinness: to oversimplify, ‘Guinness is a nice, interesting drink which is drunk by nice, interesting women.’

UPDATE 08/03/2019: Jon Urch, who works for Guinness, sent us a copy of one of the ads, which we’ve now added as the main image above.

Price as substitute for quality in unfamiliar territory

“In the absence of information, people tend to take a price of the unfamiliar product as a signal of its quality, so high prices do not diminish the quantity demanded very much. When information is provided, the signalling content of the price diminishes. As a result, demand becomes more elastic. In particular, informed consumers see no reason to pay more for the new product given that it has the same ingredients as the familiar one. The effect of the information is thus to encourage more people to switch from the substitute product to the target one at low prices, and vice versa at high prices.”

That’s an extract from an academic paper (PDF) on the behaviour of purchasers of medical products in Zambia, but you’ll encounter versions of this argument everywhere from self-help books on how to sell! sell! sell! to articles in the business press.

The conclusion often drawn is that, perhaps counter-intuitively, if you price your product higher than the competition, many consumers will assume yours is better and worth the extra money.

Conversely, if your product is too cheap, it might seem suspicious: “Hmm. What’s wrong with it?”

Does all of this also apply to beer?

Twenty years ago, we were certainly aware of the aura that surrounded Premium Lager, and Pete Brown has written memorably about the damage Stella Artois did to its brand by reducing the price.

But drinkers these days have lots more information to go on, from beer style to ABV, from hop varieties to brewing location. All or any of these might override price in the decision making process.

And, of course the actual relationship between price and quality in beer is complex: there are lots of bad expensive pints out there, and some really good ones that are relatively cheap.

Our suspicion is that price might be a proxy for quality in situations where none of the brands are familiar, and the only other information is price; or (as this paper suggests) where the choice is between broadly similar products under the same brand name: Carlsberg, or Carslberg Export?

With all this in mind we find ourselves once again thinking about the Drapers Arms, where not only is branding held at arm’s length but also the price structure is flat. As a result, we’ve probably tried a greater variety of beer there than anywhere else, even allowing for the fact this is where we do most of our drinking by default.

GALLERY: Guinness Time in the 1950s – design of the times

The set of Guinness papers we’ve been sorting through for their owner includes a fairly complete two-decade run of Guinness Time, the in-house magazine for the brewery at Park Royal.

While the contents is on the whole fairly dull (egg and spoon races, meet the toilet attendants, and so on) the covers are works of art, redolent of the periods in which they were produced.

Those presented below are all from the 1950s and so there are a couple of references to TV, the hot trend of the day.

Guinness Time Summer 1956 -- a topiary seal.
Summer 1956. Illustrator: Tom Eckersley.
A man uses a giant bottle of Guinness as a telescope.
Autumn 1956. Illustrator: John Gilroy.

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