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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chick Beer Pt 3: Editorial

Okay, so let's start at the conclusion:  Good for you, makin' money, but did you really have to play that card?

Now back to your regularly scheduled editorial:  

My very very first reaction to the packaging of Chick Beer was something like this:

My first reaction to Chick Beer after reading their basic philosophy (PLEASE check it out for yourself at: www.chickbeer.com) was, "Geez, what do chicks think about this?"  I have several female friends who are serious #craftbeer enthusiasts and I was wondering if they would be excited to try this beer or if they would be put off by the marketing.  Aside from the decidedly feminine packaging, the beer is quite proud of its low carb/calorie content.  I like a good session beer, but is that really the reason that women should buy it?  So in Pt 1: Chick Beer Facebook reactions. and Pt 2: Chick Beer Twitter reactions of this series, the good citizens of the Ferment Nation reacted on the aforementioned social media, respectively.  The reactions varied, but were generally negative.

The more I thought about it, the more mixed my reactions became.  I checked a seriously competent source called Women Enjoying Beer.  Women Enjoying Beer is an awesome organization that specializes in marketing craft beer to women.  I get the impression that Ginger Johnson, the driving force behind WEB, believes that the product itself shouldn't be "feminine" or "ladylike" in nature.  Rather, brewers can reach the female consumer by utilizing WEB's mission: to "grow and authentically develop the female craft beer enthusiast."  Gee, that makes perfect sense.  

Referring specifically to Chick's new offering and a conversation with Chick Beer founder Shazz Lewis,  Ginger had this to say:

Regardless of what she asked of me and I shared with her from these smart and engaged, brand savvy women, she chose to go forward with her dream. Power to her. No power to the idea. Because whether Shazz likes it or not, the beer isn’t about her and what she thinks; it’s about what the market wants and will positively respond to. Right now, it’s mostly negative and for good reason.

Since a product is neither masculine nor feminine by nature, the marketing of that product should be pretty specific with regards to its audience if it is going to be effective.  Let's look at another quote from Ginger:

There is no such thing as a women’s beer. Everyone wants the opportunity for flavor, whatever form that may be, and everyone wants to be treated and invited to the product with respect and in a genuine manner. And for the record, not all craft brewers get that either.

While marketing is not my specialty, it is Ginger's specialty.  Even if you stop reading the rest of this post, you need to get the full story from the Women Enjoying Beer website:

As a dude, I think it's kind of gutsy to go forward with a frilly-packaged brew called Chick.  As a craft beer drinker, my feelings are kind of hurt.  I have a guy friend who simply doesn't understand my fascination with "fancy beer."  He's tried some of my recommendations and just thinks they're too strong.  Well, at least he tried. But would he fall victim to to a marketing ploy and pack his cooler full of Fancy Beer or Meathead (love ya, Mitch!)?

Some reactions to the marketing strategy of Chick Beer are even more visceral.  Here is a Twitter conversation between two followers (@FermentNation, in case you need to get on board):

@LoneTreeBeer David Shire
@TheArtofBeer @FermentNation - re Chick Beer - looks disgusting, the idea is revolting and the name is demeaning. Hope it fails big time!!

Sound a bit harsh? 

@TheArtofBeer TMS
Bad Boy @LoneTreeBeer --- @FermentNation was asking for constructive input - we don't want to slam people for exploring new concepts

@LoneTreeBeer David Shire
@TheArtofBeer @FermentNation yes we do! The idea of sexually determined beer is disgusting! What happened to that Gay beer from Mexico?

Wait, I can't resist:
Okay, so anyway... going back to the notion that a beer is neither masculine nor feminine in nature (nor does it indicate a sexual preference).  Why is it that women should be really excited to have a "special" beer made with light flavor, low carbs, low calories, low alcohol...?  Is that really what chicks like?  Or is it what they should like?  

Back in the mid-90s, before the explosive #craftbeer boom (okay, the revolution started way earlier, but very few serious micro and craft beers were readily available outside their own neighborhoods until many of them popped up in the mid-late 90s; I know because I was 21 in 1995 and scouring bars for a damn Stella...) I went to college at the University of Notre Dame and participated in many parties that were attended by men and women alike.  Slightly more formal dances brought about more formal drinking circumstances.  The dudes typically drank beer, and lots of fruity mixed drinks (yes, Boone's Farm made some appearances) were prepared for the "chicks."  Though the women I usually cavorted with drank beer, just like the guys.  They weren't trying to be dudes, they just enjoyed beer.  And by the way, most of the respondents to our Facebook question are those very same women, and still friends of mine.  They have good taste in beer and aren't afraid to sound off about it.  Keep in mind that college days were a bit lean and generally craft beer-free, so we mostly drank Busch Light.  But hey, ya gotta start somewhere.
As we've seen from my personal friends in Part 1 of our series, the reaction to Chick Beer has been pretty fair and honest.  The name is a little insulting to some readers because they love beers with flavor.  So why would a "chick" beer be super light in body, alcohol, and carbs?  Is that what women should prefer or what they probably prefer?  On the other hand, my friends might try it on a hot day... after all, it may be okay.  Light lagers and session beers can be darn refreshing and are sometimes exactly what a beer drinker is looking for.  Samuel Adams makes a light beer, and so does Beck's.  How about Dogfish Head's Lawnmower Light or Flying Fish Extra Pale Ale?  Stone Levitation, anyone?  So why is a light beer like Chick causing negative reactions among some female readers?  It isn't the beer... it appears to be the marketing. 

It seems that the creators of Chick Beer have openly acknowledged that pretty much all #beer has been shamelessly marketed to men.  I suppose I would agree that most mass market beer has been marketed to men, what with auto racing, professional football (and most pro sports, for that matter) leading the way.  We all know that sex sells, so scantily-clad women have been employed since time in memorial to sell more than just brewskis. 

Meanwhile, Miller Lite's "Man Up" campaign doesn't do much for image of the forward-thinking,, classy #craftbeer drinkers that we (and by that, I mean YOU, the readers of beer blogs) believe ourselves to have.  

And while we're at it, what goes better with slugging down a few cold ones than racing an automobile at hundreds of miles an hour along a dirt track against other people trying to cut you off so they can get to the other... um... so they can get to the... um...checkered flag first? 

So if we can agree by way of these few examples that those massive breweries with massive advertising budgets have been marketing more towards "dudes" shouldn't we welcome with open arms a product marketed specifically to "chicks?"  Well, maybe and maybe not.  Personally, I think that Chick Beer may be a lost opportunity.  It doesn't seem to be getting good reaction from our readers.  In the interest of fairness, I promise to try Chick Beer if and when I find some in our area (Philly/South Jersey, that is).  I also promise to review it fairly with regards to its qualities as a brew.  I do think that it's kind of a gimmicky attempt to capture female #craftbeer enthusiasts.  In fact, I think that true lovers of #craftbeer will pass it over because of its packaging and marketing strategy.  

But is there a certain courage involved in taking control of the "chick" moniker?  I think there is.  Here is the story from www.chickbeer.com:

The idea for the name literally came to us in a dream, but in retrospect is obvious.  For years, men have dismissed lighter beers as chick beers, something “not on par with what real men drink”.  Our take on this: “Since when is Chick a bad thing?”

So we decided to turn the pejorative Chick upside down, and to use the word as a statement on the strength and power of women.  We also decided that this Chick would be anything but subtle: Bright pink packaging with a purse; LBD on the label; and an over-the-top feminine font; just to be absolutely certain that no one could mistake it for dude beer.

Chick Beer.  Not every woman likes the idea, and some men seem to be threatened by it.  But that’s always been the story with uppity Chicks, hasn’t it?

So taking possession of the term "chick" and applying it to Chick Beer could have a positive effect in the end.  It has long been an empowering phenomenon in the world of the African American community to reclaim certain racial slurs and throw them around a bit in order to take some of the sting out of them.  Comedians like Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, and more recently Chris Rock have done it for years. 

The rap and hip-hop communities have been especially liberal with certain terms that had historically been used as the nastiest of insults.  And let's be honest: when Chuck D says the "n-word," just about every white person within the sound of his voice looks over his shoulder to see what the hell just happened.  Of course, Public Enemy was neither the first nor the last artist to "take the power back" but they are probably my favorite.  And since this is my article, here's a picture of P.E.
Taking ownership of some pejorative terms and wearing them as a badge of honor doesn't stop at the Terrordome.  The homosexual  community, too, has taken control of a damaging epithet and worn it with pride.  Here in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area, there is a radio program that illustrates the point:
Q'zinecelebrates queer arts and culture with a mix of interviews, commentary and music from out artists worldwide.

Bringing the discussion back to beer: What about our very own #craftbeer community?   Has anyone heard of @thebeerchicks, @The_Beer_Bitch, @tattooedbeergal, @brewbabes, @CTGirlsPintOut, @QuenchWench, @TheBeerWench, @beerchick, @beerbabe, @HopSlut (... wait, that's a dude), @seattlebeergirl, @beerlass...? 

Names like gal, babe, wench, bitch, girl, lass, and chick are not exactly the most flattering if a guy were talking about a woman, especially one he doesn't know.  But these women boldly take on the names and their typically pejorative usage.  They become less offensive when you take the punch out of them, don't they?

So how can we wrap this up?  Well, I guess we have come back to the beginning.  My bottom line opinion, if you could see my actions right now, is a shrugging of the shoulders.  I won't be buying Chick Beer because of its low carbohydrate content.  Frankly, I don't give a flying ding dong how many carbs are in my beer;  I want it to taste amazing.  Honestly, though, I'm curious.  Is this a full-flavored session beer that refreshes the parched traveler?  Or is it total crap?  I said I'll try it, and I will.  But it's more of a gimmick than anything.  If you can commandeer the term "chick" and use it to make a buck, then more power to you, but is that really the best you could come up with?  I think there ought to be an organized plan, however, for meeting an immediate demand for people who are dying to try it.  Then, phase two of the plan may very well be finding a way to get rid of all that Chick Beer that was brewed in anticipation of continued demand that may never materialize.  

I honestly wish Shazz the best of luck with Chick Beer.  Everyone should be able to make a dolla' and a cent in this bidness, so go boldly forth.  I hope that you, dear citizens, have found this post to be enjoyable.  Please weigh in with your thoughts: president@fermentnation.com.  Cheers!

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