While clear beer is not exactly new, it has never proved economically successful despite polling that seems to suggest people would drink it. In the real world, once faced with a purchasing decision, people don’t buy beer that doesn’t look like beer. Thank goodness. The first clear malt beverage I recall trying was Zima, when it debuted in 1993, also from Coors. Though it wasn’t a beer per se, it was malt based and somewhat similar. It eventually got lumped into the Alcopop category, though it was not originally marketed that way, but simply as an alternative to beer. The first true clear beer, also from 1993, was Miller Clear.
Happily, it failed in test marketing and was halted in October of that year. I’m sure this ad, by Don Austin Creative, had nothing to do with its lack of success.
Here’s what Michael Jackson wrote about Miller’s Clear Beer, back in 1994:
Clear Beer was never available in the UK, but I encountered it in the United States, where it was presented in marketingspeak as “in the finest tradition of the Miller Brewing Company, full-flavored but without heaviness”.
This curious product was a lager the colour of 7-Up, which formed little head and tasted like a sweetened seltzer with the faintest touch of oily, medicinal happiness in the finish. It looked like a soft drink, but contained 4.6 per cent alcohol by volume, a level found in many “premium” lagers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Miller has a history of trying to remove the character from beer. It popularised Lite Beer, memorably described as “wet air” by the native American writer William Least-Heat Moon; and it marketed a so-called Genuine Draft in a can long before Irish and British brewers developed their rather better approximation.
But as George Santayana wrote in Reason in Common Sense. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Seventeen years later, apparently nobody at MolsonCoors or MillerCoors is a student of history. MolsonCoors’ UK division, who launched the BitterSweet Partnership to reach female beer drinkers and increase their numbers, has announced they’ll be introducing a clear beer to the UK market. The full story can be found in Marketing Magazine and the UK’s Metro.
To me, the BitterSweet Partnership is ridiculous (as is the similar Dea Latis). First of all, none of the female beer writers or brewers I know are involved in the organization, it’s strictly about marketing. The whole “team” is made of female Coors UK employees, and they’re all from HR, sales, finance, etc. I’m sure they’re lovely people but they’re hardly experts on beer. The notion of finding female-friendly beer seems wrong on so many levels. Beer is beer. Trying to make one that’s strictly for women is absurd. Remember Virginia Slims — cigarettes for women? It also reminds me of something Lionel Trains did back in the mid-20th century. They made pink trains with pastel-colored cars aimed specifically at girls. Guess what, it flopped because the girls wanted real trains like the ones their brothers had, not some watered down girly trains some marketing pinhead thought would appeal to them.
So far, the beer has no name — and they’ll be a naming contest to come up with one. That should be good for a laugh. Then it won’t be available on draft, bottles only, because in polling 30,000 women, a majority were convinced that bottles “offer better protection against having them spiked in bars and pubs.” WTF? Since when did that become a major problem? And if it has, I’d think there were more pressing concerns like stopping an entire nation of men from poisoning the opposite sex. Additional research shows that the women polled think beer is “too calorific and a ‘man’s drink.'” Please tell me we’ve moved beyond such stereotypes? Apparently not. Who are these people? No woman I know thinks like that.
In a related bit of nonsense, the BitterSweet Partnership also has research showing “that 31% of women thought beer glassware is ‘ugly and manly.'” Seriously? Again, these must be some of the strangest women on the planet, and lots of less kind epithets spring to mind. Who thinks “I’d love to drink that tasty beverage, if only it came in a glass I liked better?” Let’s ignore centuries of trial and error to get to the right glassware — flutes for champagne, snifters for brandy, a weissbier vase for wheat beers — and bow to a minority of women whose sense of fashion dictates what they drink. WTF? Let’s not try to educate them why they’re complete morons. Even though 69% think that beer glassware is fine the way it is, they’ve instead opted to design “four new glasses to serve beer in to bring a bit more style into the drinking experience,” whatever that means. You can see the four designs that were voted on here. Below is the “winner.”
First of all, you can’t even see the beer you’d be drinking in the glass, whether it’s clear or not. What a terrible idea that is. But that’s what misinformation and ignorance will get you. How stylish. What unmitigated bullshit.
While I can’t pretend to speak for women or give the woman’s perspective on this, happily, both Julie from Brusin’ Ales and Ashley at the Beer Wench have ranted beautifully about it and are as angry and offended by it as I would have expected. Their screeds mirror what I’d think would be the response from any self-respecting female fan of craft beer.
Mr. Nuts says
I don’t find this MolsonCoors effort entirely offensive. J, you’re a beer expert — and hang in a crowd, including women, that is among the most demanding and sophisticated consumers of the product.
Outside of your circle, I agree with what the research is showing with women. Most do think of beer as a man’s drink. Most don’t find the glassware to be attractive — as they’re thinking of some kind of old fashioned beer mug instead of some of the more interesting glassware that’s available these days. The black glass, while it has its drawbacks — definitely has more appeal to a mainstream female consumer who currently isn’t a beer consumer.
That said, I don’t find forced product innovation or the phony concoction of a gender-specific brand to be the solution to capture more female consumers of beer. The approach has to genuine, inspired and meaningful.
Most women I know tend to go with lighter, sweeter alcoholic products — although that doesn’t mean they’re low on alcohol. White wine, strong margaritas, rocket fuel cosmos, etc. For a brewer to go after the female market — I’d suggest trying something along the lines of a cranberry lambic or other product featuring a fruit or citrus aspect to it — then dilute it somewhat with a higher than average amount of water. The result is a lighter, more drinkable, more refreshing and lower calorie product that would have a chance.
In fact, the development of drink recipes based off an existing product and offering them through bars might be the best way to go — as you wouldn’t be creating a new product or brand — just creating a supporting sales strategy for an existing product.
Sure, the beer purists would declare it rubbish — but they’re not part of the target market.
Finally, Beringer Blass Wine Estates tried launching a gender specific brand for women back in 2005: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-131929398.html They used the identical approach as MolsonCoors — round up a few female employees and turn them loose. How did the approach work? Got an initial PR hit — then vanished without a trace. Never saw it in any restaurant or retail store — in part because Beringer wasn’t selling a quality wine — they were selling a gimmick.
I imagine the same will happen with this effort as well.
The Duke Of Dunkel says
Two great rants in one convenient post. That “glass” is hilarious, and the perfect vessel from which to drink a clear beer. Soon women everywhere will be drinking from these, all the time, and finally we men can have our ugly manly glassware all to ourselves.
Kristy BitterSweet says
Hi Jay – I’m Kristy from BitterSweet Partnership. As I’m sure you’ve seen from The Beer Wench’s post on this, I’ve joined the debate there and have responded to similar issues as the ones you’ve raised already so won’t labour the points here. However, I did want to address some of the points you’ve made.
The BitterSweet Partnership team are experts in this field, with all of us having been involved in the beer industry in various guises for many years. I’ve been involved in the beer trade for most of my working life, starting out working in pubs, and this is my 10th year at Molson Coors UK. I’m a beer enthusiast in my own time too, and it’s a subject I’m very, very passionate about!!
Also just to clarify that BitterSweet Partnership is a UK business, set up to address specific issues which have resulted in the fact that fewer women over here enjoy beer. Only 13% of beer here is drunk by women whereas in the US it’s almost double that – so it’s not that surprising that you don’t know many women who think like that. Drink spiking has been covered widely in the media here in the UK, and it’s something on the radar for many women in this country (also reflected in our research).
I see our approach to marketing to women as different from the examples you mention, because the amount of time we’re spending on research and insight shows that we want to get to the best understanding of women and their relationship with beer. If women wanted to be marketed to in the same way as men, then they’d drink equal quantities of beer. Developing a clear beer is just one of the many ways we’re trying to reach women who wouldn’t normally consider trying beer.
@Mr Nuts – thanks for your comments. Just wanted to add that this product innovation isn’t all that we work on – we look at many aspects of beer and the culture that goes with it. This has included developing recipes with professional chefs and visiting bars and pubs to see how female-friendly they are, among other things. Also, we’ve been established for over a year now and have no plans to disappear just yet!