Beer a Male Beverage? Communications Research Proposal

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¶ … BEER a MALE BEVERAGE?

Communications and Women's Studies: Beer

Is Beer a Male Beverage?

Is Beer a Male Beverage?

For much of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, American popular culture has viewed beer drinking primarily as a masculine trait (Miller, 2002). This view was captured in a tongue-and-cheek manner in the Miller commercials depicting 'masculine' male celebrities sitting around a table hashing out what constituted "Man Law" (Bosman, 2006). Yet, films catering to the college crowd frequently portray female students holding their own at 'keggers', which are parties where beer consumption appears to be the main agenda. Women bloggers who are beer fans have noticed women make up a significant percentage (35-50%) of attendees at craft beer festivals and are involved in running their own breweries (Companion, 2011).

With an estimated 31.5 million beer drinkers in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012; Saad, 2012), of which 30% are women, are beer formulations changing as women make their alcoholic beverage preferences known? Naturally, one of the most important indicators of beer industry attitudes towards women consumers is the tone and content of their marketing campaigns. For this reason, most of this research proposal will focus on the marketing aspect.

Review of Literature

The portrayal of women in advertisements has been criticized for decades. Hall and Crum (1994) examined the portrayal of women in beer commercials and found that men appeared more often, women wore swimwear more often, and camera shots to an actor's chest, buttocks, legs, or crotch occurred twice as often for women than men. These findings were interpreted as evidence that brewers and their marketing firms were reinforcing subservient and sexual object stereotypes of women in order to increase interest by unsophisticated, blue collar male drinkers. These findings could be interpreted as indicating that socially-assigned gender roles have influenced marketing decisions by the major breweries historically.

A somewhat recent overview of beer ads, both successful and otherwise, is consistent with the findings of Hall and Crum (1994). Carl Miller (2002) highlighted one of the most successful early beer ads, which featured an attractive waitress by the name of Mabel who seemed to serve only Black Label beer to mostly male customers. Historically successful beer marketing campaigns often featured masculine sports celebrities or rugged-looking male actors. A significant paradigm shift occurred in 1974 when Miller introduced a 'lite' beer. To minimize the backlash to what was perceived by some as a 'sissy beer', Miller focused on the beer's merits with the phrase "Everything you always wanted in a beer, and less" (Miller, 2002, para. 30). Miller buttressed this effort by featuring famous male celebrities whose masculinity was supposedly beyond question. A few years later, the famous marketing phrase "Taste great, less filling" filled the airwaves (para. 33).

A relatively recent article in the New York Times focused on the Miller Brewing Company's "Man Law" tribunals headed by the actor Burt Reynolds (Bosman, 2006). This change was interpreted as an attempt to make up for earlier commercials that were widely perceived to be blatantly sexist, but Julie Bosman was not convinced. Through Bosman's writing, a marketing agency executive responsible for producing this ad comes off as sexist. Filling in the details, Laura Ries, the president of a brand strategy firm in Atlanta, related to Bosman that what really matters most to the major breweries are sales. She also pointed out that blatantly sexist ads have sometimes had a negative impact on their bottom lines because of the negative publicity.

Maybe the breweries and their marketing firms are a bit behind the curve in terms of public tolerance for these marketing strategies. When children from a Northern California community between the ages of 9 and 15 were asked to view several different beer commercials, both genders and all age groups reacted negatively to ads that portrayed women in a negative way or ads that seemed to advocate a lifestyle incorporating exploitation or misrepresentation (Waiters, Treno, and Grube, 2001). The children also had negative reactions to images of drunkenness, direct encouragement of drink beer, associating beer drinking with athleticism and a healthy lifestyle, associating beer with nature, or the depiction of beer as a way to attain popularity and sex appeal. If this is the future customer base, major breweries may want to update their marketing strategies to a more gender neutral theme.

Given the history of chauvinistic and sexist beer ads, it would make sense that women would be turned off by the idea of drinking beer from major breweries. These ads seem to communicate the message that women risk appearing less feminine if they drink beer and may not enjoy the taste of a 'male' beverage. However, the idea that women would actually go along with this theory is laughable. Carla Companion (2011), a beer lover and blogger, is a craft brewery advocate. Her personal observation is that women constitute a significant proportion of craft brewers in the U.S. At a recent craft brewery festival, she estimated that women represented 35 to 50% of the attendees.

If Companion's observations have any merit, then women may be doing an end run around the major breweries by making their own beer and selling it to the public. This should strike fear into the hearts of brewery boardrooms, because a recent Wall Street Journal article discussed the growing phenomenon of women as beer tasters (Kesmodel, 2010). Apparently, women are earning a reputation for being better beer tasters than men, because their taste buds are more sensitive to undesirable flavors. Scientists claim that this is due to women having a better sense of smell. The brewery industry is divided over this issue though, with Miller and Molson jumping in with both feet and others claiming that such an idea is ludicrous.

Interestingly, the presence of women as CEOs in major and moderate sized breweries is higher than would be expected based on Fortune 500 companies (Spitz, 2010). While 2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female, women represent 20% of major and moderate sized brewery CEOs. In the craft brewery industry, women represent 11% of the brew masters. For 20,000 years, women were the primary brew masters in villages until they were burned at the stake during the Middle Ages. These 'Ale-Wives' were responsible for the quality of the beer and therefore often held influential positions. Maybe the relatively high percentage of women CEOs at breweries is a sign that pre-Middle Age villages had the right idea when they gave women responsibility for producing the local grog.

Spitz (2010) attributed the high prevalence of female CEOs in the brewery industry to women's willingness to adapt to male business values. She may be right, given the results of a study that found low gender diversity in major brewery employees (Griffin and Weber, 2006). Based on 2003 statistics, women represented 53% of all employees and 41% of first-line managers in the U.S. By comparison, 23 and 27% represented employees and managers, respectively, at Coors Brewing. At Miller Brewing, only 19 and 22% of employees and managers were women, respectively.

Historically then, women were not only beer drinkers, but were responsible for the quality of the beer being produced. Given the relatively recent emphasis on beer as a male beverage by major breweries, could they be losing market share to the craft brewing industry which seems to be more gender neutral? The Brewers Association, a predominantly craft beer trade group, noted that U.S. beer industry sales declined by 1% in 2011 (2013). By comparison, the craft brewing industry experienced a 15% increase in sales and a 13% increase in production volume. Since an all time low of about 90 U.S. breweries in 1980, there are now 2,126 in operation, of which 95% represent craft breweries. In terms of production volume though, craft breweries represent less than 6% of the entire beer market. In terms of growth, however, they are outshining the major breweries by a wide margin.

With a growing craft brewing industry and women becoming valued tasters, beer formulations might be expected to change. Beer consists of water, carbohydrates (barley), flavorings (hops), and yeast (Powell and Compton, 1991). These ingredients are mixed and the malting process breaks the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. The yeast then metabolizes the sugars through fermentation to produce the alcohol. Sounds simple right? Not so fast, a beer rating and beer information clearing house recently test tasted 180,000 beers from 13,000 breweries from around the world. Obviously, there are as many different tastes as there are consumers. This was confirmed using gas chromatographic analysis in the laboratory, which found that at the molecular level beers are highly complex and variable (Powell and Compton, 1991).

The likability of specific beers also varies considerably, based on individual preferences. When 170 beer consumers were asked to rate the taste of 24 beers their opinions differed significantly (Guinard, Uotani, and Schlich, 2001). The finding most relevant to the thesis of this proposal was the lack of a gender difference in taste… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Beer a Male Beverage? Communications."  Essaytown.com.  March 7, 2013.  Accessed February 22, 2019.
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