A Move Up For Beer
Sarah Theodore  
A move up for beer
The U.S. beer industry has struggled for several years against competition from wine and spirits, but the past few months have shown that the big brewers are ready for a change. I recently attended the Nightclub & Bar show in Las Vegas and saw a number of examples of the ways brewers are attempting to redefine their products.
Living up to his reputation for being a straight-shooter, Miller Brewing Co. Chief Executive Officer Norman Adami addressed the audience of bar and nightclub operators, saying the industry was guilty of too much “sameness.” Brewers, he said, had created too many of the same products and advertised them in the same way for too long. Even more important, he said there was too much of a specific kind of sameness — male-oriented advertising that used base humor to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
With the aid of a video montage of beer advertising, including ads from his own company, Adami wryly said he “can’t imagine why anyone would get the impression that beer is less sophisticated and more down-market than wine and spirits.” Such marketing, he said, had made beer look like the “official drink of the knucklehead.”
Just as the beer industry was headed in this direction, consumer trends took a turn in the opposite. Demand was increasing for “mainstream sophistication,” and products from beverages to blue jeans were differentiating themselves by allowing consumers to personalize their purchases.
Miller is turning the trend with more upscale positioning for Miller Genuine Draft, calling it “Beer. Grown Up,” and premium imagery for several other brands. The company used the Academy Awards to launch the MGD campaign — yet another example of change, as the Oscars arguably have a larger female audience than male.
For its part, Anheuser-Busch used last month’s Super Bowl broadcast to launch “Here’s to Beer,” an initiative created in conjunction with the Beer Institute, to play up beer’s social value and lack of pretension. Consumers were directed to a Web site that featured beer facts, product guides and recipes for cocktails made with beer. At the show in Las Vegas, A-B featured its new Peels malt beverage for women, as well as fruit-flavored “shots” meant to be mixed with beer for customized flavor options.
These may be great ideas, but perceptions will take a while to change, even within the industry. For example, the Miller ads that drew the biggest response from the audience during Adami’s address were the new Milwaukee’s Best ads, which the company kept more traditional, calling the brand “a beer brewed for a man’s taste.” In the ads, men showing their more feminine side are crushed by cans of Milwaukee’s Best.
In the brewers’ favor, the two beer segments that continue to grow are craft and import beers, indicating that going upscale works for beer. In addition, women have been largely responsible for the popularity of wine and spirits, and they are finally being factored into beer marketing. But it’s going to take a lot of education to redefine beer, for both consumers and the industry as a whole. BI
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