Top executives at the big brewers in those days used to be ornery folks even when business was good. Had someone told August
Busch III that managing a Budweiser decline would be an acceptable business strategy, that someone would’ve been fortunate to…. Never mind, no one would’ve dared utter such craziness in earshot of Mr. Busch.
So with today’s volume losses on every major Big Beer brand, you might think marketing heads at the breweries must be rolling like so many empty kegs. Think again. If you listen carefully, you can almost sense a collective shrug from Big Beer. Comments to the press like “It’s not unexpected” and “We’re managing the decline better than our competition” absolve marketing people of blame. There was a time when careers would have ended marked by those last words. Big Beer has not only gone flat, it seems to have gone soft, too.
And not just in the corporate corridors.
When you take a close look at contemporary beer advertising you notice the softness, a diminished sense of masculinity that was never there before. Males in beer ads these days are routinely portrayed as clueless or socially awkward. Women often play controlling, even dominating roles. How many times have we seen gorgeous female bartenders emasculate some beer-drinking doof with a snarky put-down, or just a withering look? When Viagra ads are more in sync with what young men want, something’s out of kilter in the beer world.
The masculinity themes that appeal to young men coming of age should be well-known to the breweries. Social success. Acceptance. Respect. Young men don’t want to be seen as clowns, unless they can achieve the revered status of class-clown. Where are these once-celebrated appeals in today's beer-advertising strategies? What major beer brand directly connects with them?
I can almost hear the whine: “But masculinity has changed, you old coot!” Ignoring the insult (which I would not do in person), my gut tells me this purported "new masculinity" is a faux insight. But even if we concede a new definition, it would only mean beer marketers should've by now developed a deep understanding of its precise character (and not just what someone hoped it might be). With all of that, if your insightful new definition of masculinity isn't helping sell more beer, chances are it’s bogus.
Craft-beer makers spend pennies where the big guys spend millions. But these hotshots of today’s beer business possess a powerful natural instinct for the masculinity that’s gone missing from corporate beerdom. How else to explain their choice of brand names like Alpha King, Fat Woody, Mojo Risin’ and Rogue?
And their business is neither flat nor soft.