It's time to share some personal thoughts on a theme I seem to speak to on a weekly basis: women and beer. In light of the recent Bud Light #UpForWhatever campaign, which included the tagline, "The perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night," the topic has surfaced once again--and the conversation is spilling over into the craft beer world.
Beyond the general topic of women and beer, the specific topic of sexism is a subject both in beer and beyond. As Bay Area writer and bartender Jen Muehlbauer told Slate.com recently, "I can cite examples of sexism both extreme and subtle in the beer industry, but so can any woman in any industry. I don't think beer in particular has a woman problem so much as Planet Earth does."
Sexism Should Not Be Used to Sell Beer
Like any consumer-driven industry, brewers have a fine line to walk. As the writer of that Slate article went on to say: "Sex and sexism aren't the same thing." Marketing the concept of consensual sex is certainly different than objectifying women or men to sell a product. Additionally, what appears sexist to one may not be sexist to another.
Regardless, in the past, beer in the U.S. was primarily marketed to what is known as "LDA males"--men of legal drinking age. Based on what I've seen, there are still some beer business influencers whose approach to advertising is stuck in this myopic, isolationist mode, as women are just as relevant when it comes to the beverage of beer.
Even one sexist label, logo or beer ad dilutes the integrity of our beloved beverage. From a personal perspective, I often say what feels good tastes even better; but unfortunately, I have seen specific examples of beer advertising that just does not feel good to me. These missteps draw shame and sensationalization from the media, as they should.
But those are actually just rare bad examples in a much larger sea of good. With tens of thousands of beer brands at local tap rooms and on brewpub and restaurant menus, I'd like to make the point that the controversy over sexism in beer advertising is isolated to just a few offenders. Most in the beer community would agree that beer is about being social and connecting people, and that alienating half of your potential customers is shortsighted.
Beer Has No Gender
In today's more advanced beer culture, we're experiencing a more engaged customer base with higher expectations than ever before--especially of our small and independent craft brewers.
Simply put, most craft brewers treat and view beer as a gender-neutral beverage. Things still aren't perfect, but before the sensationalizing gets out of hand, it's important to note that there has been a shift in the way the beverage is viewed in this country, and cultural triumphs have accompanied these changes.
Before the 1990s, which saw the rise of both the Internet and the popularity of microbrewed beer, sexism-based advertising was prevalent. However, with the viral voices of today's social media channels, I see checks and balances in play. Vocal consumers are forcing brands to grow a conscience. Integrity is the metaphorical yard stick for the average craft brewer and beer lover.
With thousands of established and upstart breweries producing a diverse variety of flavorful beers, the U.S. craft beer movement has more traction than ever before, and women are increasingly showing up both in the beer aisle and in the brewhouse.
Nielsen research tells us that as of 2014 women consume almost 32 percent of craft beer produced in the U.S. That same year, a team of Stanford researchers surveyed more than 2,500 breweries and found that 21 percent had at least one woman in a top role like founder, CEO, head brewer or brewmaster. Compared to similar industries, that number is actually relatively high--sad, but true.
Time For a New Approach
If beer (and not just craft beer) wants to continue to grow with women, then the industry's key decision makers need to keep evolving their cultural outlook--including their approach to marketing and advertising.
Frankly, when it comes to beer and women, the way forward isn't much of a head-scratcher. Just like it's not appropriate for even one derogatory workplace comment to fall from the loose lips of a behind-the-times sap, sexism should have no place in beer marketing.
Beer has so much to celebrate. We should be very proud that the U.S. is a beer-loving nation first and foremost, where beer sales match the sales of wine and spirits combined. Our craft breweries are small businesses that have helped bring great innovation and a less gender-targeted approach to beer marketing than ever before--I'll cheers to that!
Let's challenge today's generation of brewers and those to come: May we all be a part of setting new standards of marketing that broadens beer's customer base.
Julia Herz is the Publisher of CraftBeer.com, Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association and co-author of the CraftBeer.com Beer & Food Course. Julia is a life-long homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone®. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer.