Monday, 23 January 2017

Avoiding the promotion of alcoholism

When you're "into" the alcohol industry, no matter the particular drink you're selling, there's a public health line you have to tread carefully. People are responsible for their own choices, of course, but there are ways that brands can try not to fully encourage the misuse of their product.

By law in the UK you can't advertise alcohol as being a product that makes you drunk. This seems somewhat ridiculous given our country's penchant for using it to do exactly that. You can, however, advertise alcoholic beverages as delicious, refreshing and fun; an enhancement to your already vibrant and fulfilling life. let's call this a "marketing challenge".

Take a look at Jagermeister's "It Runs Deep" campaign. It's funny how they manage to avoid any mention of 2am Jagerbombs throughout.

Also notice the look and feel of this ad - they've pitched their drink as a revitalising pick-me-up after a hard-day's competing in extreme winter sports and appearing in Red Bull-backed short films. It's a total tone of voice re-brand and I have no issue with it per se. It's really cheesy, but it's okay and the message isn't harmful. Moving on.

Other brands have a harder time toeing the line of acceptability/responsibility. There seems to be a lingering feeling, I assume amongst older marketing exec-types, that recklessly drinking to excess is cool. The reason I bring age into this is because it's reported repeatedly that Millennials are not interested in drinking until they pass out, and Generation Binge begins with people of my age and upwards, and we, my friends, are getting on. I turned 29 the other day.

Perhaps this is why occasionally I see advertising campaigns like this:

Without digging too far into the psyche of the team of people who thought "Shane McGowan is a great posterboy for our whiskey, let's get the band involved," I want to unpack this a little bit. Perhaps for my own handwringing's sake.

"The official Irish whiskey of the legendary band" it says on the label, but official or not, it's still fairly distasteful. A band famed for it's lauded poet frontman Shane McGowan as much as it is for their back-catalogue and raucous live shows, people unfortunately don't remember them without seeing his face, ravaged by years of alcoholism. Looking at the bottle of Pogues whiskey, I'm not sure if linking long-term alcohol abuse to a rockstar lifestyle and packaging it into a beautiful, black bottle perfect for Father's Day is actually a great way to act responsibly.

Another example: One brand I persistently roll my eyes at is Jack Daniels. The brand is as ubiquitous worldwide as Coca Cola and has, for me, all the problematic connotations "The Pogues" whiskey has. Famed from the 60s-onwards for being the tipple of choice for people as talented and mercurial as Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Janis Joplin and of course, Lemmy, the connotations of the easily-recognisable square bottle and black and white brand were those of recklessness and ultimately, unreachable cool. The brand has retained that feeling and having stars swigging from the bottle in beautiful backstage photoshoots helped the brand reach iconic status. People wear Jack Daniels branded merchandise much more than you realise. Teenagers still use empty JD bottles as candle holders.

No matter how much a person's health is their own responsibility, encouraging the idea of alcoholism as aspirational will never sit right with me, particularly knowing the devastation it causes. I know that it's not up to the alcohol industry to make sure people are drinking responsibly. Perhaps though, the line between fun and dependency is blurred for some. Instead of drawing lazy comparisons between drink and hedonism, brands could use their influence to create better, stronger campaigns that both act responsibly and show off their products in a better light, particularly to a Millennial audience who don't want to crawl home at dawn. Wouldn't we all benefit from cleverer marketing and better products anyway?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Hipsters: My unpopular opinion

You there. You don't like hipsters do you? No. Nobody does. Hipsters are a scourge on society, what with all their strange facial hair and their penchant for foods and drinks you've never heard of. What's wrong with a pint of Fosters anyway? Exactly. Posers. Showoffs. Get back to Shoreditch.

Except hipsters don't just live in Shoreditch, do they? They haven't done since the turn of the millennium. Hipsters have infiltrated society, putting food in zinc-adonised minibuckets and drinking obscure spirits from Guatemala. Hipster culture is everywhere, in your newsfeed, in your local pub, in your coffee. Hipsters have changed the way you live, whether you like it or not. I, for one, am glad.

The disdain for hipsters (and mostly for their beards, which to be honest, have been disappearing of late) has come from the natural progression of trends. Lashing out at cool stuff is a national pastime. I say that the modern hipster has helped to bring new tastes into our lives, and judging by the reaction to this Tweet, I'm not the only one:

Far from the Nathan Barleys of over fifteen years ago, hipsters are helping to buck trends in beer, just as they have with food, spirits, clothes, hairstyles and music. Am I a hipster? Maybe. I live somewhere too isolated to really be able to tell. Where I am, a hipster is still somebody who prefers Bombay Sapphire to Gordons.

Thanks to those sweet, sweet hipsters, good coffee is now standard. Shakshuka is an acceptable alternative to bacon and eggs. Records are no longer obsolete. My Joy Division-themed Christmas cards (hand-made, you'd have loved them) were a roaring success. Craft, niche, bespoke and artisan are all words we scoff at but actually denote a level of care, obsession and quality in production that is often lacking in a lot of the products we buy.

Without the hipster, would enough people know what a DIPA was in order to make it a finacially viable product? Without the hipster paving the way, would people love Common Grounds as much?

It's cool to drag the hipster. But it's cooler to accept that they made your life a little bit better. Love your local hipsters.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

My 2017 hopes and dreams for beer in North and East Lancashire

I think we've all read enough internet news by now to know that in the first waking days of 2017, craft beer is booming/slumping and cask beer is doing well/shite and that people are really starting to love/hate beer in all it's interesting/unnecessarily complex forms.

Where I am however, it's a little different. Speaking to Boak and Bailey the other day, it was pretty apparent that there are a lot of beer-scene bubbles out there, that entire cities live in 24/7. It's easy to get into a bubble - if you're in a place with lots of stuff relevant to your own interests, the natural assumption is that many (if not most) people enjoy the same stuff you do, and think the same things about them too. It's not a problem on the whole, in fact it must be bloody great to live somewhere that's so relevant. That's what I miss the most about living in Leeds. It was like my brain had invented a town for me to live in, and everyone agreed with me all the time.

Which brings me to my first hope and dream for beer in North and East Lancashire: I really hope that in 2017, craft beer seeps into the less au-fait areas of the country so that brewers can benefit from wider demand, fans/lamewads can find it easier to find the type of beers they're excited about and your regular punters can get a taste of super exciting beers and start to understand what it's all about. One year probably won't make a massive difference in the grand scheme of things, but if popularity can not just continue increasing in the cities but also inflitrating the - trust me- popular pubs, bars and clubs of the smalltown, everyone will surely be a winner. I've done research. The demand is already starting to grow within my bumpkin brethrin.

My second hope and dream: For brewers in the North and East of Lancashire to start taking some risks. A land of rain, intensely beautiful landscapes and ubiquitous English Pale Ale, I'd be over the moon to see some local brewers who I've always had soft spots for to realise that all they're doing is putting out three variations on a theme plus a dark one. Sorry. This is just how I feel. And I'll name names if you want - I'm from Lancaster so people always buy me Lancaster beers. They send me to sleep. Let's have some energy, guys! Let's make something special! Let's put our vast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the map for excellent beers as well as the historical relevance of its rivers and wildlife. Create the demand by converting your loyal drinkers - you've got thousands. Help everybody out.

My third hope and dream is that the RV, or Ribble Valley to you, takes hold of it's smoulderings of a scene and cultivates them into a big blazing firework display. Currently, the beer scene in this part of the world is small and interesting, with a few individuals helping to push it along. We have The Ale House, doing its bit to teach local drinkers about the unnecessary idiocy of finings and the taste of exotic hops, bacteria and non-traditional ingredients, hosting beers from Vocation, Beavertown, Magic Rock, Fourpure and Blackjack - still strange and enticing names to most customers. We have Holmes Mill, a huge new development including the new site for Bowland Brewery, which brings hundreds of different brews from across the UK (all cask, some cans) to the area. We have our traditional locals doing their bit for interesting, CAMRA-approved breweries (all cask, again). We have American-style bars selling bottles of Sierra Nevada and pints of Blue Moon. Not bad for an area closer to the Dales than to the Northern Quarter, but there's definitely still room to do better. I feel like Clitheroe is on the cusp of becoming a destination. Maybe I'm biased. Maybe it's because I have my own designs on the area. Whatever it is, I hope I start seeing movement in the right direction soon or I'll have to move to Ilkley.

My fourth and final hope is that the larger towns in the area start taking the lead of exciting little places like Hebden Bridge and building their own beer scenes. Lancaster, I'm looking at you. What are you doing right now? You're a student town with a stale nightlife looking for something new - surely you can cobble together a couple of home-grown craft beer pubs before Brewdog move in? Draw a circle between Burnley, Barnoldswick to Lancaster back to Blackburn. Look at that bubble, my bubble. There's barely any craft beer in that bubble. See my point?

My weird bubble