Breaking the ‘glass bottle’: gender stereotypes in alcohol branding

It’s 2017, and ‘Old Milwaukee’ still has a half-naked pin-up girl on their beer cans. Progressive, am I right?

Now, it is very likely that on your quick trip to the liquor store you did not notice the blatantly subjective and stereotypical alcohol brands directed at both men and women. The way alcohol is marketed nowadays is directed solely at a generalized idea of what men and women like. Most beer, gin, and rum brands are trying to emulate a more masculine identity. Whereas, most cocktail drinks, wines, and vodka brands are overtly feminine.

A popular female targeted drink is the ‘Girls Night Out’ brand of wines. The ultra-curvy pink and purple bottles feature an abundance of colourful fruits and their signature mini-skirt logo, clearly aiming to attract youthful and feminine drinkers. But this does not seem to bother the consumer, as ‘Girls Night Out’ continues to be a staple drink in many girls’ evening festivities.

A variety of alcoholic drinks that are clearly marketed for either men or women.

Another popular drink among women drinkers is ‘Skinny Girl,’ a wine brand that insinuates that women need to lose weight. I bet you would never see a ‘Skinny Man’ wine on store shelves, would you? That is because there is no societal expectation for men to be uber-skinny. However, there is for women. ‘Skinny Girl’ is using their brand to tell women that they should aspire to be stick-thin. That is however only perpetuating a self-confidence issue amongst young women. Most female-targeted alcohol brands use a colour scheme of pinks, purples, and light blue. It is apparent that these brands are marketing to women in a much more demeaning way than men.

Now, beer companies on the other hand, are incorporating stereotypical male objects or characteristics in their branding. Many cans and bottles include images of axes, tools, trucks, and even plaid clothing. A collection of male targeted drinks also tend to have scantily clad women on the labels. Companies like, ‘Sailor Jerry,’ ‘Old Milwaukee,’ and ‘Aphrodite’ are all guilty of doing just that. Now, of course not all men drive Ford F-150’s and have facial hair, so why do marketers suggest alcohol companies play off of these stereotypes?

The truth is, it works. As much as marketing is a creative industry, it also acts predominately as a business. Vice-President of marketing and international relations at Air Transat, Susan Bowman, says that “marketing is something people may like, and something other people may not.” Bowman goes on to explain that marketing is about increasing sales by supporting a product/service based on clientele research. In the instance of gender-based marketing of alcohol, the reason it is so predominant is because it is what customers are demanding. However, some people would say that women purchase wine and coolers because they have been told it is appropriate to for them to do so.

Former Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) employee, Mackenzie Read said from her experience, “men typically buy beer, gin, rum, and scotch. Whereas women drink mostly wine and coolers.” Read says that these demeaning gender stereotypes on alcohol brands are simply perpetuating gender inequality. Read mentions that some men were ashamed to even purchase alcohol that was branded more femininely, as it somehow emasculated them.

Mackenzie Read, a former LCBO employee discusses alcohol branding.

How many people truly like beer the first time they try it? No one, I can tell you that. Same goes for most drinks. Nonetheless, if you are a man, you will likely buy beer because it is marketed solely to you and that is what society expects from you.

So how does a company choose how to market a product? Bowman says that extensive research goes into every marketing campaign and that marketing for “baby boomers is very different than marketing to millennials.” The research typically contains “demographic information, geographic locations, interests, purchasing behaviours, and more.Ultimately, whether or not you agree with the way alcohol is marketed, Bowman highlights that “marketing is a business,” and despite moral disagreements, if the product is selling then that is all that matters. Large alcohol companies like Budweiser and Corona play-off gender stereotypes in order to maximize their profits with huge advertising campaigns meant to target heterosexual, masculine males.

Bear Runner — Beer, The Great Lakes Brewery — Beer, Tempt 9 — Cidre

The London Brewery Co-operative on the other hand is trying to tackle these stereotypes through their branding. The co-operative brands equally to both men and women and is seeing major successes. They just recently up-sized their brewery in the old east village of London and are working closely with organic food and beverage companies such as the Root Cellar cafe. Co-operative owner, David Thuss says their sales are about “60% men and 40% women”, something that Molson Canadian could not say.

David Thuss, owner of London Brewing Co-operative.

As a consumer you must stay aware of these subjective stereotypes when you are shopping. Men should not buy beer solely because they think it will empower their masculinity, because it won’t. Women should not buy pear-infused pinot grigio just because society has told them to like fruity wine. It all comes back to the idea of alcohol as pleasure or as entertainment. Do you drink because you like the taste, or the feeling? To clarify, not the hangover feeling. When purchasing alcohol, if you really do like craft beer even though all your friends are buying Absolut peach vodka, buy the craft beer. Consumers have the purchasing power and the opportunity to dictate how alcohol is being branded.

Purchase alcohol because you like it, not because you have been told to like it. It’s time to smash that glass bottle, one ‘Skinny Girl’ at a time.

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