In 2012, more than 206.1 million 31-gallon barrels of beer left brewery loading docks in the United States, according to the Beer Institute. (Please calm down. It is not a college, and you cannot apply to go there. And there sure as hell is no financial aid). Annual per capita beer consumption among U.S. residents age 21 and over was 28.2 gallons. That’s about twenty-five 12-ounce glasses per month. We all know people who drink a great deal more than that.
We like beer. It’s a good thing, properly used. It makes for a competitive industry on a lot of levels. You have the big national brands, such as Budweiser and Miller. Some locals and regionals still hold out, such as Iron City in my hometown of Pittsburgh, and Old Style and Leinenkugel in Chicago and Wisconsin. And then there are all kinds of craft-style brews that only seem to be available in beer-cool places, such as Oregon. All in all, a marketplace with lots of variety and interest.
Except for one thing: the big companies have to hit numbers, so they gotta move units. So they have to advertise. And what’s the worst medium for conveying taste? That’s right: television.
Most mass-consumption beers are the same color, something between a missed attempt at gold and a spoiling urine sample. Coldness is in the control of the consumer. Taste cannot easily be conveyed in words. (Watch a cooking show, close your eyes, and see if the script alone makes the dish on the screen sound as good as script plus video.) So…what’s left to talk about?
Apparently, three things: dumb jokes, hot women, and “innovative” packaging.
None of that ever sold me beer. Not even when I was in the golden demo, males 18-34. (Judging by the commercials, men buy most of the beer.) In those years when I was entering the marketing bullseye, I was busy trying to avoid Iron City and drink as much Genessee Cream Ale as I could. When I grew up some, I started preferring certain beers for certain times. Thanks to time spent with a lot of beer-savvy German friends in college, I learned my way around a bit. Pilsners, lagers, stouts — I try not to be a beer snob, but I know what I like.
And knowing that, I can’t get behind the beer commercials with all that behind in them. Drink this; you’ll get girls. I know that’s not true; I spent my 20s testing the theory. The dumb jokes aren’t even worth mentioning. But the worst are the commercials trying to sell us the idea that a spiral-necked bottle, or a little hole you punch in the top of the can so the beer flows better, are somehow improvements. Seriously? Let me apply to this idea the same analysis and reaction my Dad used when I did something completely head-up-my-ass and then tried to paper it over with some cockamamie story:
Thanks, Dad. You were right on.
Why can’t beers talk about how they taste? It can be done. There are so many chances. Even good-tasting beers such as Stella Artois blow this, talking about the perfect pour instead of their crisp, clean taste. Here, watch; I’m gonna write a beer commercial script right here, right now:
[SCENE: MAN pushing lawnmower on hot day. Stops mower, turns it off. To camera.]
“Perfect time, right? I got the perfect beer: crack open an ice-cold Kloss with me. Tastes good any time, but after a big job, or during a big game? This is your beer. Those bitter, hoppy brews? They’re OK for some times, but what you want now is the crisp, cold, never-bitter taste of Kloss. Has body, but no bite. Clean, easy to drink, refreshing…bet you can taste it now. Get the job done, then grab a Kloss.”
Tell us about the intriguing bitter of hoppy India Pale Ales, about the creamy edge of unfiltered weissbiers, the texture of lagers, the smoky richness of classic English porters. Smith words. That would make me want to try a new beer. I have a sense of adventure, especially where taste is concerned.
Are there true packaging innovations? Sure. My wife voted for pony bottles for hot-day picnics; they can usually be consumed before they get warm. But save your spiral bottles and color-turning cans (jeeeez, like I need help determining when a beer is cold?). Do us all a favor: talk about the beer. It’s why we came.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr