The new Desperados campaign stopped me in my tracks as I was passing through Old Street station last week.
One of the billboards of young hipsters enjoying tequila-flavoured beer featured a woman, on her own. This is highly unusual in the world of beer advertising. Women have historically been few and far between, and to show a woman without a male chaperone is almost unheard of.
The industry doesn’t have a great track record of engaging the fairer sex. There have been some notable disasters such Carlsberg ‘Eve’ – a fizzy, fruity ‘beer for girls’ that was badly received and quickly disappeared from shelves in 2009. And of course it’s not just beer brands that have been guilty of this. There have been plenty of embarrassing blunders in other categories – remember the Bic ‘pen for ladies’ disaster?
Where other industries have learnt lessons, most beer brands still haven’t worked out how to talk to women, or even include women in the ‘man’s world’ they curate through comms. This is a problem, as lots of women drink beer! Acting like we’re not here, or imagining we’re just sitting quietly in the corner sipping mojitos is a mistake. The lack of engagement on behalf of the big brands means there’s no opportunity to build any brand affiliation or loyalty. You shouldn’t ignore half of your consumers!
Looking at above the line comms exemplifies the problem. Most campaigns have a purely male cast, and when a woman is featured she is simply an extra, a supporting actress to define and reinforce the role of the male protagonist. You can group a woman’s purpose in a beer ad into four broad typologies: The Prize; The Accomplice; ‘Er Indoors; and The Inferior Product.
In the age-old tale of boy gets girl, ‘The Prize’ is probably the most common purpose for a woman in a beer ad. She’s there to show you that drinking this beer will turn heads and impress all the ladies in the bar/on the beach/at the festival. We know the ASA will slap wrists if the advert overtly implies that the product will help in successfully bedding said lady, but you can imply that it will get her attention and impress her (and you can trust that enough of the product itself will do the rest!)
Classic ‘prize’ examples feature in the Stella Artois Perfect Serve ad where the bartender pours pints for a series of impossibly glamorous and beautiful women. Surprisingly, in this one the women do actually pick up the beer… but you don’t see them drink it. Of course not – a woman that glamorous has never had a drop of beer pass her lips, she’s a vodka and soda girl for sure.
He’s not trying to woo her in this one, she’s simply the super cool, super hot but totally platonic sidekick. You’ll find her in cider ads such as the Bulmers Reverse campaign. She’s there to laugh and look pretty and stand next to the men at the bar as they buy the drinks. She’s never the ringleader, or the initiator of the fun, but she’ll emphasise what a good time everyone is having. In said Bulmers ad, the main gang is two guys and girl, and there’s a male voiceover. She’s not there on her own terms, but at least she’s there, and no one’s trying to hit on her.
This is my least favourite representation of women in advertising. Ads like this imply that all women are boring, naggy, fun sponges and men have to deceive and trick them to have any respite from their horrible, draining, relationships. The Carlsberg Crate Escape ad is a particularly infuriating example. It features men who have been forced to go on a spa weekend with their wives. The men hatch an elaborate escape plan that involves digging an underground tunnel out of the spa to the Carlsberg brewery to return, triumphantly, with an icebox of Carlsberg. To be honest, the girls probably had a better time without them.
There are countless examples of this type of female representation, and it smacks of a lack of understanding of the modern consumer. Modern women and men are becoming increasingly bored of overt gender stereotypes. This type of narrative is tired and rapidly losing relevance. At least as the accomplice she’s fun, and as the prize she’s desired. ‘Er indoors is particularly offensive and a sure fire way to alienate women.
The Inferior Product
In this scenario you think the featured woman is going to be ‘The Prize’, but then at the last minute she is totally usurped for a pint of beer. The Stella Artois She is a Thing of Beauty campaign is a great example of a woman getting ditched for a pint. While a part of me quite likes the irreverent tone and twist in traditional prize story, it sadly doesn’t put the woman in any stronger position than the other scenarios.
What Desperados have done so well is not assigning her any typology. She’s just a normal looking girl enjoying a beer. While I can’t relate to any of the four typologies, I can relate to her. Sure it’s just one print ad – just a small part of one campaign – but it exemplifies a consumer sensitivity that other beer brands have yet to hone. Here’s to hoping that we see some genuine, relatable women in beer ads soon. Women that aren’t being hit on, patronised, mocked or ignored – I’ll drink to that.