Monday, August 17, 2009

And now for another episode of "Resentful Craft Beer Lover Sounds Off on Mega-Brew Advertising"

For several months I've resisted the urge to lambaste Miller for their fairly recent, and thoroughly asinine, "triple hops brewed" advertising campaign for Miller Lite. Surely you've seen the commercials, and you've heard Miller proclaim that this process, which they seem giddily proud of, is responsible for Lite's "great pilsner taste."

I don't need to spend much effort telling you why this claim doesn't amount to squat. That's been done so many times already. Here's just a quick summary:
  1. "Triple hops brewing" is essentially standard procedure. Bittering, flavor and aroma – presto, three hop additions. Congratulations Miller, you know how to brew.
  2. It doesn't matter how many hop additions you use if the quantity is barely above the threshold of human perception.
  3. As a marketing term, "triple hops brewed" lies somewhere between the "yeah, so?" plainly descriptive and the nonsensical. Miller wants you to believe they're educating you with a bit of inside-baseball brewing terminology, then they turn around and trademark the phrase, something you do for contrived marketingspeak – which this basically is.
  4. Miller has been insulting consumers for years with their "true pilsner taste" claims – never mind the fact that we know and can both qualitatively and quantitatively state what Pilsners are and what beers like Miller Lite are. You better believe Miller knows the difference, and they just don't care.
  5. If a Miller Lite drinker was actually looking for beer with some measure of hops in it, and you gave him one (an IPA, say), odds are decent he'd find it unpalatable. And that's OK. Miller should stop pretending the beer is something it's not – after all, the consumers Miller is going after already have a pretty good idea what Lite tastes like, and it's disingenuous to suggest that any perceptible differences between it and the other brands come down to Miller's generous use of hops.
For as many facepalms as the Big 3's ads tend to prompt, there's only so much use (which is to say, not much) in taking them on point-for-point. But what all this nonsense does is help bring further into focus what we've long known about mass-market beer advertising: that truth, honesty, objectivity and relevance have about as much place here as they do in an Axe body spray commercial. No revelations here; I've harped on this before.

Still, while this sort of chicanery doesn't surprise us, that it has become so routine does not excuse it either. And routine it is: Miller's not the only brewer bent on annihilating the line between beer hype and education.
  • Coors Light's handlers continue to hammer away at the meaningless premise that their "frost-brewed" (another non sequitor masquerading as procedural descriptor) beer "tastes" cold. (Where's the "* refrigerator not included" disclaimer?)
  • ABIB has been touting the "drinkability" of Bud Light while assuring us that its "perfect" flavor is neither too light nor too heavy. (Makes you wonder. What would be "too light"? ABIB's Michelob Ultra, about as light as they get? And "too heavy"? Perhaps ABIB's Budweiser, all of 4.9% alcohol?)
What gets me is not that the ABIBs and MillerCoorses of the world employ such tactics at all. It's the fact that they seem to believe market share is entirely about who can play the game better. To some extent it's true – Bud Light didn't get to be America's top-selling brand by packing the most flavor into every 12 oz. bottle. But if consumer research and sales data tell us that beer drinkers are moving to more flavorful offerings, the answer is not to try and convince deserters that, yes, Bud/Miller/Coors does actually have all the flavor you're looking for (silly you for walking away).

We can't really expect anything to change until the bottom-line pressures become overwhelming. Right now they must not be, so the games continue. Yes, the major brewers have done plenty of experiments with offering more flavorful beers – and when that hasn't worked they always go back to beefing up the core brands. And let's be honest, light-beer drinkers (who, like it or not, seem to generally respond to light-beer ads) remain a far more attractive constituency than curmudgeonly beer geeks calling B.S. on Madison Avenue's latest head-scratchers.

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