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The Soapbox: An Open Letter To All Breweries About Women, Beer & Branding

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This post is cross-posted with permission from the blog A Girl’s Guide To Beer.

Dear Brewers, Brewsters, Marketing People and Art Departments,

I love our industry, I really do. I feel blessed every day to work in, what is undoubtedly, the warmest, most welcoming and fun business in the known cosmos.

But I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with you… in fact, I’ve got a whole skeleton’s worth … and it’s about the sexist imagery some of you use to promote your beers.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, in the last few days there’s been a bit of a furor about the issue of rape, some bloke called Julian, a mahoosively ill-informed American politician and some loud-mouthed idiot who has remarkably managed to manipulate a whole section of society into voting for him.

I’m not, for a single moment, saying that pump clips or bottle labels incite rape — that would be equally bone-headed — but you only have to look at the enormous backlash such idiotic comments have evoked to see that sexism has no place in modern society. So why do you still indulge in it?

As business people can you honestly not see that it does PRECISELY NOTHING to encourage intelligent people into drinking beer? And I’m not just speaking for women here; a brief comment on Twitter, and the resulting responses, shows that many men find it equally disturbing.

And just in case you’re wondering whether this is merely an intellectual objection, I’d like to give you an example of why branding and sexism is a real issue. At the Great British Beer Festival this year I was happily minding my own business, waiting for a mate to return to the bar, when I was approached by a man who asked me what I thought of the pump clip next to me.

It was a nonsense “slap & tickle” style image and I said I thought it was stupid. Cue said “gentleman” launching into a full-scale rant at me that started with: “Yeah, I know who you are. You’re that joyless cow who complains about this all the bloody time. It’s harmless fun! What’s your f*cking problem”

And much as I enjoy a spirited debate from time to time (for those of you who know me, feel free to snigger), I walked away. Why? Well, as a wise man once said to me: “Don’t argue with idiots, they’ve had way more practice.”

But I was targeted, in a very aggressive manner, by someone who wanted to use my stance on sexist marketing as a big stick to beat me with for being a woman in the beer industry. Is this something you want to encourage or that you want your brand associated with?

And if that one anecdote, and sadly I have a number of them, doesn’t do it for you, perhaps I could draw your attention to the fact that research by Molson Coors shows that 42 percent of women are put off beer by the macho marketing.

From a professional standpoint I also get more than a bit ticked off when I seek to engage with you about this issues quietly and politely in the background (I’m looking at YOU, Marstons brewery) ignoring my efforts is pretty rude to be honest, so I’m going to say it publicly instead!

Some of your range of seasonal pump clips for the Wychwood and Jennings brands are depressing at best and, at worst, simply puerile. Are you honestly proud that your products have joined the beer equivalent of the rogue’s gallery over at Pumpclip Parade? (BTW, kudos to Jeff Pickthall for running this site.)

If smaller companies like Hart Brewing, which has previously been a particularly bad offender, has recognized that it needs to change its ways, how come one of the largest regional brewers in the UK seems incapable of doing so?

And can we just take a moment to look at the Slater’s range and the frankly pathetic out-dated, out-moded and tragic pump clip for the equally tragically-named Top Totty that hit the headlines earlier in the year after being banned from the Strangers Bar in the House of Commons?

All else aside, from a purely aesthetic point of view, how can a successful and genuinely good brewery not see how appalling cheap, nasty and tacky it looks against the rest of the brands?

These are sadly just a small selection of the awful dross out there which is damaging our industry’s image and making life difficult for women to get into beer, let alone those of us who are already in, what I’ve said before and will say again, is a truly wonderful business.

You may think I’m making a fuss about nothing but I’m a firm believer that any aspect of society that fosters intolerance is created of thousands of elements, none of which are too small to challenge, and this element should, most certainly, be called time on.

Melissa Cole is a beer expert (yes! it’s a job!) and runs beer tasting events in the UK. She is also working on a book, Let Me Tell You About Beer.

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