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Too many dicks on the dancefloor: Are beer advertisers missing out by excluding women?

Kiwis like their beer. A lot.

With the average Kiwi downing almost 65 litres of brew per year (ranking us 27th globally in beer consumption per capita), the term “grabbing a cold one” is almost as ubiquitous as “giving it a go”.


Data from Nielsen shows Kiwis spent about $730 million on beer last year – a sizeable chunk of change any way you look at it. But are Kiwi brewers missing out on potential customers?

There’s a case to be made – or rather, lost.

The bulk of Kiwi beer drinkers remain men between the ages of 20 and 50, but more and more women are cracking open cans after work and on weekends.

As mentioned, more affluent women started drinking beer last year than any other group, according to Nielsen data. And alienating the largest-growing customer base isn’t exactly good marketing – which is something some brewers have found out.

Last weekend, craft beer brewer Moa was criticised for its misogynistic depictions of women in its advertising and lack of female board directors at its annual shareholders’ meeting. The company caught flak online, with outlets such as the New Zealand Herald and Stuff covering the controversy and celebrities like singer Lizzie Marvelly blasting its advertising.

In a social media video shown at the shareholders’ meeting, a talking beer bottle was voiced by a woman with a stereotypical southern US accent discussing getting Botox.

Shareholder Jenny Miller said at the meeting the video was offensive.

“It’s really not acceptable when trying to appeal to us as females,” she said.

Moa claimed the video was not misogynistic, but it’s not the first time it has faced such accusations.

In 2012, the company’s initial public offering prospectus included images of men in sharp suits smoking cigars next to women in short skirts holding ash trays.

The criticism may also be hurting Moa’s bottom line: data from Sydney-based research provider Fat Prophets shows the company lost about $2.9 million last year.

On the other hand, the company has had a 35 percent increase in revenue since last year, and its share price has risen 209 percent.

In other words: it’s hard to tell if the company’s marketing is working for or against them.

And though Kiwi beer drinking habits are changing, a lot of beer marketing remains very male-dominated. 

Alice Galletly, author of the upcoming book How to Have a Beer (out in October), says change has been slow to come to the industry.

“Traditionally big beer companies have ignored women and although a lot of them are trying to win us back now, it’s going to take some time to repair the damage,” she explains.

“For the last forty-odd years, beer companies have been linking beer to testosterone, as if drinking a particular beer brand will make you a ‘real man’. Women either didn’t feature in ads at all, or were shown as a bimbo who might sleep with you if you drank this particular beer, or as a nagging wife who tried to get in the way of you and your beer. Not surprisingly, women haven’t been flocking to buy these products.”

But there’s also a fine line, Galletly says. So-called “femvertising” of beers targeted towards women can backfire, she explains.

“I think it’s a mistake to assume female consumers are collectively looking for any one thing in a beer. Plenty of beer companies have tried to create beers specifically for women – usually miserable low-calorie, low-carb, low alcohol things, and not one of them was a success. The thing is, we drink beer with our taste buds, not our genitals, so you shouldn’t assume consumers will like the taste of something just because their privates are shaped a certain way. Give us a bit more credit as individuals with individual tastes.”

But more Kiwis are drinking light beer and craft beer, according to the Nielsen stats. Nielsen commercial development director Geoff Smith says there’s several reasons for this.

“The growth in light beer has been very strong off a small base,” he says.

“Changes in demand are likely being driven by the lowering of the legal alcohol limits for driving in 2014 as well as an increase in flavour options such as citrus for non-traditional beer drinkers.”

Brewers seem to be catching on, too. DB will be launching its DB Export Citrus Lime and Ginger in mid-August at supermarkets nationwide. DB Export senior marketing manager Tony Wheeler thinks it will prove to be a big hit.

“This is an innovative brew which has both a sharp, lime zing and spicy ginger aftertaste, the outcome is certainly refreshing,” he says.

The fact more women are drinking beer isn’t surprising to Galletly, though.

“A lot of women I know weren’t beer drinkers until they discovered craft beer, and then when they realised there was this whole world of flavours beyond pale lagers got really into it,” she says.

“So I think a growth in female beer drinkers is thanks in a large part to the growth of craft beer. There is the odd misogynistic miss-step from certain breweries of course, but I think the craft beer industry in general is friendlier towards women than big beer has been traditionally. The selling point is quality and flavour, not what kind of person drinks it, so it’s a more gender-neutral playing field.”

Galletly’s assertions are certainly backed up by data. According to Smith, craft beer sales in New Zealand have grown by 123 percent since 2010.

“The exceptional growth in craft beer highlights these specialty beers are not only loved by hipster households, but hold a wider appeal,” he says.

“The large variety of craft beer available caters to consumers who are looking for something different in the beer aisle. The upside for retailers is that the choice provides new opportunities to drive sales – an appealing prospect that can bring incremental revenue to some of the more traditional segments of the beer category. At the same time, everyone – brewers, distributors, retailers, and consumers – don’t have infinite capacity for more and more. The trick is knowing which varieties consumers are thirsty for, particularly as the arena continues to widen.”

And Galletly has some simple advice for beer advertisers.

“Don’t try to pander specifically to women, just tell us about the beer!”

We’ll drink to that.

This story originally ran on StopPress.
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