Friday, June 4, 2010

Market Correction Brewing for Light Lagers?

When you have two companies that enjoy about 80 percent combined market share in their industry, and the nation's leading financial publication says they're doing it all wrong, something interesting, and seemingly errant, is undoubtedly afoot.

Yet that's exactly what happened in the pages of today's Wall Street Journal, which, far from celebrating the titanic status of brewing beasts Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, has served up something rare indeed: a mainstream smack-down of these companies' extremely mainstream beers – brands that, one could argue, have been repeatedly validated by the marketplace over and over again.

With suave and methodical ferocity, drinks writer Eric Felten lays into ABIBMC over everything from the hollow void where flavor ought to be found but isn't; to asinine marketing strategies that mostly insult consumers while leaving product attributes unaddressed; to packaging contrivances as silly as they are useless.

Felten juxtaposes these observations with the major players' souring sales figures to support a thesis that is substantial and everything craft-beer devotees are dying to hear: As the performance of powerhouse brands like Bud Light and Miller Light continue to bring pain to their owners' balance sheets, Felten wonders, could it be that we are "finally witnessing a great consumer revolt against shamefully bad beer, shamelessly promoted?"

The piece is sprinkled with other fabulous nuggets of anti-industrial-beer-ism:

Taking notes in my blind tasting I quickly found myself running out of ways to describe vapid nothingness.


No wonder these beers are so heavily advertised. No one would think to drink them otherwise. And even if there are those who actually like the stuff, the different brews are virtually indistinguishable. Nothing begs for vigorous marketing like products that are otherwise undifferentiated.

Felten's search for deeper meaning behind the brewers' slipping sales figures is both provacative and not out of character for the Journal. Whether he hits the mark is anyone's guess; for the time being, suffice it to say that plenty of people still drink Bud Light, and even like it. Are they merely hypnotized by advertising? Numbed by universal blandness coupled with inescapable ubiquity? It's probably impossible to say.

Nevertheless, kudos to Eric Felten and his employer for taking such a strong posture against the behemoths of the brewing industry. Now, we "real beer" aficionados should not have, nor do I believe we necessarily do have, any illusions of an overnight takeover of the beer market by craft brands and all they represent. But with the help of keen scribes like Mr. Felten, and the circulatory heft of publications like the Journal, we just might see more people asking important questions about the beer they're drinking. And with all due deference to the Coors Light marketing department, that's as refreshing as it gets.

1 comment:

Gites Dordogne said...
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