Good beer, bad labels

Let’s talk about sexist beer labels.

This article was originally posted to Facebook in 2014 and received over 10,000 views. 

Recently someone at a retail liquor store out east emailed me to ask if I’d ever refused to stock a beer because the label was sexist or offensive. My answer, sadly, was “Yes we have”. In all my time in the beer industry I’d never yet seen a label as blatantly misogynistic as this one that she was referring to. We chose not to include the image here or even a link. If you want to see it, just Google “Mt. U Cream Ale” and click on image search. It’ll come right up.

A Google search will quickly find many more offensive and sexist beer labels from all over the U.S. The mind boggles at what is going through the heads of the people designing and approving these labels. These are examples of the very worst however, many breweries are labeling their beers with images or names that are maybe not quite as blatant but still using innuendo and sexism to try and sell their product.

Many craft breweries seem to forget their customer base is not exclusively 23-year-old guys. Having said that, I know plenty of 23-year-old guys who are mature enough to realize these labels are terrible. So who are these labels aimed at? Are breweries intentionally looking for a customer base of sleazy uneducated men? I doubt it. It seems to be a case of little education and in these specific cases at least, total ignorance. The label designers do not realize that labeling their beers with images of women in lurid positions is not only an insight into an obviously dirt-bag culture at the brewery but also limits their potential customer base.

Ask most people what a Craft Brewery is and I’m sure you’ll hear all kinds of romantic notions about artisan, old school brewing techniques, passion, and creativity. Those are certainly the kinds of things I think about when dreaming of my favorite craft beers. These sexual labels and juvenile dirty names are nothing but lowbrow, immature and nasty.

When I entered the craft beer industry in 2008 I never would have dreamed that some craft brewers themselves would be contributing to a culture of disrespecting women.

I reached out to our branding and web specialists, Bicycle Theory for a professional opinion. Here’s what owner Ben McCoy had to say about the issue:

The challenge with sexual innuendo in marketing is it’s potential to repel as many customers as it attracts.

What male-dominated industries (like beer) often forget, is that sexual innuendo is basically a one-trick-pony. It may spur a few individuals to pick one up for fun, but it also objectifies half the population. And over the long term, this approach will almost certainly create more problems than it’s worth. Some may say “relax, it’s just a joke.” And that’s great. If your brand is a joke, then put it on blast and enjoy the ride (while it lasts). But the type of investment required to produce and distribute beer makes this a very expensive joke. Others may say that “all press is good press,” but most craft brewers we know can’t afford the time or money that PR challenges of this nature may require. And still others may say, “but it’s a niche brand and haters gonna hate?” Fantastic. Hate is just a niche that requires you to absorb on ongoing stream of negativity, because haters also love to hate.

 So can sexual innuendo work? Yes. Will it increase your brand’s reach? Doubtful. Is it worth the hassle? Probably not.”

Here at The Four Firkins we see every day how craft beer is enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Craft beer is no longer a niche. There are plenty of people who would never buy beer with such a label no matter how good the beer inside was.

Imagine a busy professional woman buying beers for the office get-together. Do these brewers think for a minute that this woman would buy a beer with a label like this and present it to her coworkers?

How about the father of a 13-year-old daughter. Is that man likely to sit on his couch and drink this beer in front of his little girl? No. He’s not. Unless he is also ignorant and doesn’t care about the message he’s sending his daughter.

In my experience as a specialty beer retailer I can say this with some confidence: Other than brewing bad beer the second best way to ruin or devalue your brand is to put bad labels on your beer.

Marketing is powerful stuff. Bad marketing is even more effective at turning someone off your product than good marketing is at getting people to purchase. We see evidence of this every day here in our retail stores. No matter how good a beer is, even with our encouragement, if someone doesn’t like the label they will not buy it. Furthermore, if the retailer themselves is so offended at a label they won’t even stock the beer then chances of a consumer purchasing it drops quickly to zero.

Here are some labeling guidelines for any new breweries out there who might be reading this as they struggle with naming their beer, label design and logos.

  1. If you are thinking of portraying women on your label in a demeaning manner: Don’t do it.
  2. Avoid using juvenile sexual innuendo in your names. It will limit and eventually decrease your sales. If you’re unsure how offensive it might be show it to your wife, your grandmother, your daughters or any woman you know.
  3. Think about imagery and design that will appeal to a broad spectrum of people. People of all ages and both genders drink craft beer.

Craft beer enthusiasts are often very disappointed with the beer selection at high-end restaurants. These abysmal beer lists are often due to a lack of education on the part of the restaurant, especially when found alongside a brilliant wine and cocktail selection. But in some cases, poor packaging is a legitimate justification. Imagine serving a trashy image on a craft beer bottle next to a bottle of imported Pinot Noir. For craft beer to continue to rise to fine dining status, the caliber of packaging must match that of other beverages.

Sexually explicit beer labels make it more difficult for all craft breweries by worsening the overall image of the entire industry.

If you see a beer with a label that offends you let the retailer know you don’t approve. The retailer is not forced to carry the beer, they make a conscious choice to do so. If the brewery and the store never get any feedback this issue may never go away.

Jason Alvey.

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