Pink, frilly beer won't tempt female drinkers

Molson Coors’ bid to woo women with a ’feminine’ beer shows just how misguided and clumsy gender targeting can be.

I may be a woman, but I seem to have lost my sweet, ladylike nature when it comes to female-focused marketing. With the drinks industry launching several campaigns this summer especially for the girls, I’ve even created my own slogan for this targeting technique. It stinks to be pink.

Earlier this month, brewer Molson Coors announced it was creating a special beer for women. Its new product, Animée, comes in various forms including the feminine “crisp rosé” flavour and aims to get more ladies choosing beer as a drinking option. The product is “lightly sparkling”, which translates into real language as “shouldn’t make you belch as much as men’s beer”.

Molson Coors isn’t alone in the drinks world in hoping to convert more women to its products. A start-up in the US, Chick Beer created by a female entrepreneur aims to appeal to women’s concern over their weight by creating a lower-carb product with 97 calories per serving.

There are some product categories where gender definitely makes a difference to how we buy. Not too many men buy mascara, for example, so it makes sense for it to have an overtly female-focused marketing strategy. The same goes for dresses. Or high-heeled shoes.

Heineken campaign

Heineken campaign

But there are numerous sectors where gender makes little sense as a segmentation tool. It simply leads marketers to make patronising campaigns that fail to identify the product benefits for women (along with men). Beer is one of these categories. My friends and I like or dislike beers based on their taste. Or the quality of their ingredients. Or, quite often, their availability.

Even calorie counting doesn’t separate men and women these days. Take Australia’s Skinny Blonde beer. This low-carb beer is marketed at “taste makers and creative individuals”. If anything, it is vaguely focused on male drinkers, with a 1950s pin-up girl adorning the label. Or girls who like the retro look. Whatever. The gender of the drinker doesn’t matter since it has a genuine product difference that appeals to figure-conscious human beings in general.

Although Molson Coors claims to have based its launch of “lightly sparkling” Animée on research with more than 30,000 women, I’ve never heard a female complain about the levels of fizz in their beer. After all, these same people may well be drinking Diet Coke and champagne, so it seems likely they are pretty familiar with the concept of a gaseous drink.

Yet it’s fair enough that drinks companies want more customers. Molson Coors says that in the UK, 79% of women never or rarely drink beer. And Chick Beer says women account for just 25% of US beer sales. Meanwhile, the overall UK beer market saw volume sales fall by 7.3% in the last six months. Any business looking at those figures would want to find a way to convert people into customers.

But I think beer brands are going about it the wrong way. They may well be missing out on the cash of a percentage of people who don’t like the taste or find beer too calorific, but these are not necessarily women. They are people waiting to be served by new product development.

Carlsberg campaign

Carlsberg campaign

More interesting than launching “girls’ beer” is that there are more women than ever running breweries and creating genuinely tasty products for everyone, such as Sara Barton at Brewsters Brewery and Kathy Britton at Oldershaw Brewery. When you have women involved with creating the drinks, they are creating a culture of women having an interest in beer.

The real issue here is that mainstream drinks companies often use marketing that excludes women. I can’t remember the last time I saw a beer ad that featured a mix of men and women enjoying the product together. Nah, it’s all (male) mates down the pub and blokey humour.

Think about it. The original, iconic Budweiser “Wassup?” ad featured a group of guys all fooling around, shouting down the phone at each other. I guess their female friends just weren’t in on the joke. Meanwhile, a Heineken ad features women screaming on seeing a wardrobe filled with clothes while men screech at a wardrobe filled with beer. Yes, it’s laughing at stereotypes, but the underlying message being reinforced by that ad is “women love frilly stuff, while blokes love grog”.

I could go on and on. The same lack of women drinking beer that companies are now complaining about is a sign of just how successful brands have been at their marketing up until now. They have wanted men; they have got men.

Fosters' campaign

Fosters’ campaign

After I initially blogged about my concerns over female-focused marketing last week a male colleague asked: “But don’t women want to know there is a beer out there just for them? Doesn’t that make them feel like a brand is addressing their needs?”

My answer: no. For hundreds of years, beer companies haven’t needed women and their marketing has reflected that. You might say that women who have bought beer have done so purely because of the product benefits; after all, they haven’t seen any marketing focused at enticing them in. They are not shying away from beer. They are possibly the industry’s most motivated customers. They buy beer despite the marketing.

So with that in mind, why don’t beer companies create some true-to-life marketing campaigns that involve women (along with men) drinking beer in social situations? Without the need for pink bottles or crude stereotypes? Or go into high-profile partnerships with women brewers to highlight their work and jog female interest?

Come on, drinks companies. Make women drinking beer a marketing normality and perhaps then society will follow.

Readers' comments (12)

  • I agree and disagree slightly at this article. I agree that you should make marketing beer at women "normality and perhaps then society will follow" and that women drink the beer despite the stereotypes. However, I think women do worry about how 'gassy' its going to make them on a night out. As someone that has been a student in the North for the last 4 years (originally from London) I found that more of my friends there were inclined to drink beer, compared to girl friends from home. This said before we used to go out on a wednesday night we would plan what we were going to drink around what we were going to wear. For example if we were wearing something tight fitting, then we would not drink beer as it made us bloated and belch. If we were going out for example dressed as builders we wouldn't mind so much - the attire was more comfortable, less attractive and so the element of drinking beer just seemed to go with the attire. This said it is again the stereotype. I think the marketing for beer to women definately needs re-thinking though! Great article though!

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  • It never ceases to amaze me. So often, Marketers find themselves arguing the credibility of their profession versus the companies lawyers, accountants, etc. To counter this argument - especially in the consumer brands environment - technical marketing skills, including consumer research skills are key. However, a contributor to this online journal. by inference an 'expert' is supporting an approach based on no insight other than their own personal experiences. This is really weak. To speak on behalf of all women is incredibly arrogant. Their attempts may not appeal to you, that is all you can assert.

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  • Hi Ruth, it’s Kristy from Molson Coors. I'd love to get together and take you through the research and development of Animée.

    It’s interesting your colleague asked “But don’t women want to know there is a beer out there just for them? Doesn’t that make them feel like a brand is addressing their needs?” I’d have to say yes, we spoke with 30,000 women, many of who aren’t traditional beer drinkers, and we brewed Animée based on the feedback that we collected from them.

    You are absolutely spot on, having women involved with creating the drinks, will create a culture of women having an interest in beer which is why we’ve spent 2 years collaborating with women across the UK to develop a beer unlike others in the category that we hope will encourage non beer drinking women to try beer for the first time.

    And we’re also using the insight we’ve gathered to inform the rest of the Molson Coors portfolio. In order to have more women choose beer we need to look not just at marketing campaigns but glassware, packaging and the way beer is served, it has to be the whole drinking experience if we’re going to make beer a real choice for women.

    Maybe we could have a chat over an Animée?

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  • I completely agree with you Ruth. I have been involved in the craft beer industry in British Columbia for five years and have seen a tremendous growth in that segment, particularly amongst women. They are responding to the variety of flavours available, the new information available on food pairing, and the breaking down of beer myths that dissuaded them from exploring beer in any depth.

    I am also a founder of Vancouver Craft Beer Week. One of our most popular events is Woman and Beer, where we have women in the local brewing industry provide a female perspective on beer, along with an opportunity to sample the products they produce. This year, they even produced a special collaboration ale for the event!

    The industrial brewers have a poor record when it comes to marketing their products.

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  • Thanks for all the comments so far.

    @anonymous (second comment) - you are quite right, this column is opinion, rather than research. We feature several pages of research each week, so I do understand the importance of facts and figures. However, the column is my opinion, so you are quite entitled not to agree with me.

    @Kirsty - I would love to get together with you. Your plans sound very exciting if you can make them work for women and I would definitely like to talk more. Please drop me an email about meeting up.

    Thank you all.

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  • 'My friends and I like or dislike beers based on their taste. Or the quality of their ingredients. Or, quite often, their availability.'
    Really? Nothing to do with the brand at all?
    That's a handy bit of insight - should save the brewers a few quid.
    May come as a nasty surprise to their ad agencies, though.

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  • I've just returned from a great weekend in Brussels. Seeing the number of women there drinking beer in what looked like large wine glasses tempted me to abandon the usual white wine and try a Belgian beer. I was hooked!! A chilled Blonde Belgian beer (Leffe is my current favourite) served in a goblet tastes as good as it looks. Shove off, Chardonnay, and bring on the Blonde!

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  • Excellent post! Only time will tell if Molson's strategy is an effective one, but it is refreshing (pardon the pun) to know that the segment of the female audience that isn't buying into this strategy is a vocal one. I applauded Kotex's U line for targeting us non-frilly ladies, thought you might find it interesting too::

    Keep up the good work!

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  • I suppose the marketing / advertising of beer to a seemingly exclusive male audience is a case of focussing spend where it is most efficient. Some of the cider category for example (especially ones such as Kopparberg, Brothers, Bulmers etc) appeal to a more mixed drinking audience and as such their advertising depicts mixed social drinking more often.

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  • I read your piece first in the hard copy.
    I have blogged in response to the good points you raised..

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