Marketing experts can get a free hand in beer world

Our beer expert Andrew Nowell
Our beer expert Andrew Nowell

Our beer expert, Andrew Nowell, looks at the marketing of beer in his weekly column, Hoppy Hour...

Once marketing beer was a fairly straightforward process.

Pump clips had fairly bold and simple designs that didn’t do much more than give the name of the beer and the brewery which had made it.

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Not any more. Today there are a plethora of different styles which can be used to market ale, reflecting the explosion in variety and choice available to the drinker.

Indeed, in some quarters beer marketing has become a very hot topic indeed, with a few scandals and controversies rocking the sector.

Traditional marketing techniques, of course, have not gone away and these can mean very different things in different parts of the world.

Many British beers, for example, are still labelled with what we would call old-fashioned designs, with fairly straightforward images and not a huge amount of text being used.

In Belgium, though, old-fashioned usually means quite detailed images, perhaps taking cues from the rich Flemish school of painting or with pictures of monks and churches to nod towards that country’s incredible history of monastery-based brewing.

Those who stick to time-honoured traditions in Belgium use far more ornate labels on beer bottles than their British counterparts would.

The growth in craft beer, and the opportunitiees that arise from it to think more deeply about ale in all sorts of ways, has unsurprisingly also affected the way the drink is packaged.

Some have kept it simple. In an era where supermarkets and specialist beer shops have shelves laden with hundreds of different bottles it is vital that drinkers can search out their favourites quickly.

Particularly helpful in this regard are Siren’s S stamped on the neck of all its bottles, Marble’s use of printing straight on to the glass and Wild Beer’s distinctive and rather cool stag logo, which is differently coloured for each ale in the range.

Dutch brewery De Molen also says it best by saying next to nothing at all with its stand-out range of all-white labels covered in black text.

Others, though, have taken design the other way. Especially with the growth of canning, which allows for wraparound designs, there are now all sorts of fancy and colourful ways of selling beer.

Beavertown has led the way in Britain for comic-book style designing, influenced by numerous US brewers whose cans ape graphic novels in look.

These are clearly designed to suggest the beers, and the people making them, are as fresh and innovative as the cans look.

Then there is Marble’s range of barrel-aged concoctions named after gothic horror literature. These have a beautiful card covered in olde-worlde font which is then hung around the neck of a plain bottle.

Others have tried distinguishing their limited-edition beers, like Thornbridge Hall which clearly gets influence from wine makers in its pictures of stately homes on its more rarified creations like Bracia.

However, some of the newer brewers have also found themselves in some trouble. Tiny Rebel is the most obvious example. The Welsh brewery with a punk attitude and a love of heavy dance music combines a brightly-coloured design with its mascot of a rather scruffy, moth-eaten looking bear with crossed eyes.

Ludicrously, someone took the brewery to court and said that these looked too much like pop and the bear would encourage people to get drunk. Hence, from now on said cuddly toy has been banished to the back of the can.

Some design changes in beer, like the campaign to get rid of outdated sexist marketing and pictures of well-endowed ladies, are welcome and Hoppy Hour fully gets behind them.

But it is clear that moral panics about alcohol are never far behind any attempt to rebrand or sell alcohol. Given the current market, there are likely to be more such cases.