How marketing gets in the way of you and your beer.
By Carl Perks
We all drink beer. But why do we drink what we drink when we take part in this ever-so-popular small-dose-self-poisoning?
Guzzling down ethanol (the substance that gets you drunk in alcohol) is the oldest drug-induced recreational activity. The first beer, dating 9000 years back, was a soup made by ancient Egyptians. But before it ever became commonly known as a beverage, it was used in lamps, stoves, scented candles, as a solvent, added flavors, coloring and medicine way before it became a party favor or a psychoactive drug of any kind.
Why do we brave the hangovers, surmount the silly evenings and dive into such consumption? Does it have anything to do with how it’s marketed? Before the age of advertising, the church would often produce its own brews, now that we have foregone the church, what keeps us drinking? More specifically, what keeps us drinking what we drink?
They are not cheaper, they are lower in alcohol content and they sure as hell aren’t additionally appetizing; why do we drink light beers such as Moslon, Budweiser, Richards Red and Corona and Labatt? Is it really the taste?
We all have the collective memory of drinking one of our first beers in front of our friends, grimacing from the awful taste just to turn to them and blurt ‘‘This is soooo good!”. Are we all averting to collective peer pressure?
Actually, our actions are in response to the practices of some of the best P.R. teams in the 21st century. Here is why:
The P.R. Campaing
According to the census that was posted last year on the Canadian Competition Bureau’s website, 3/4 of all the beer consumed in Canada was bought at a corner store or grocery shop. Now, opening a corner store is rather expensive from the point of view of the average potential corner store entrepreneur. Most people who do so are forced by language issues or a lack of education (or in some cases, the“wrong” education).
‘‘Before coming to Canada, I had a biochemistry doctorate. Now in Canada they tell me no, you can’t work in a University because your education is no good. Now I sell cigarettes and milk. Before I drove a taxi.’’ Said Hagop Jirair, owner of Tabagerie Rielle, explaining his current career situation.
As the devil is often depicted doing through different figures in various folk tales, big brewing companies waltz into newly opened corner stores and offer the tight-funded entrepreneurs free refrigerators if they adhere to a simple contract. Considering those refrigerators can cost up to 10 000$ each, this sounds like salvation.
In this case, the price of salvation is simply to fill said refrigerator with products that are produced or owned by that large brewing company. It’s not a big deal for the business owner but it is for all the microbreweries that sell higher quality beverages, but lack the funds to just toss iceboxes around.
Microbreweries got together to contest such contracts in 2003 forcing the federal bureau to look into the matter. Their subsequent decision for a course of action was to forgo inquiry on the issue and ignore the complaints. In 2009, the same acts (77 and 79) where challenged once more. In response, the competition bureau passed a bill (Bill 199) and added three clauses to previous acts that:
~Forced convenient stores to sell micro brewed beers (Bill 199)
~Reserved one shelf in each corner store refrigerator that would be limited to the sale of micro brewed beers.
Microbreweries rejoiced, but this triumph was short lived. Large corporations, never to have been what they are without the P.R. teams that they employ, found a dubious way around such clauses.
Unibroue, one of the most successful Quebec-run microbreweries, was just bought by Sleeman. You may not know Sleeman too much but you may know its owner, Sapporo. Sapporo also owns Guiness. Canadian distribution of Unibroue, Sleeman, Sapporo and Guiness is taken charge by none other than Labatt, under the wing of Diageo. Now that Labatt (who purchased Unibroue in 2006, under Sapporo) owns the largest microbrewery in Quebec, who do you think will be filling that ever-sought after shelf? And you think you walk into the corner store and choose what you drink? Talk about sticking it to the man.
Labatt, being profit-oriented the way that most major corporations are, is probably going to drop the quality of one of the most finely brewed ales produced in Quebec in order to generate higher revenue. Since that beer is currently on the ‘‘Microbrew’’ shelf, we are going to view it as the alternative, local economy-encouraging option. What we don’t realize is that we will eventually be drinking the same beer with a different label.
So now that, under the laws of profit, your favourite beer’s quality is going to drop, and your choice of brand only alters the label and not that beer, what should you drink?
This is not a yeast-induced apocalypse nor is it a reason to fight the power. It’s just beer. When it comes to self-empoisoning, what is your fix?
Once polled, 38.71% of Dawson students that answered a short questionnaire on their brew of preference replied Coors Light as 14.55% answered Guinness, 14.19% answered Bud Light, 11.46% answered Smirnoff Variety Pack and11.61% answered Pabst Blue Ribbon. Considering that Smirnoff and Guinness are owned by Diageo, Coors and Pabst are owned by Molson and Bud Light is owned by Budweiser; 90.52% of the beer you drink is produced by three of the largest beer corporations in the world. That’s not to mention the 9.48% of what the rest of us drink in which my estimated guess would have at least 3% of it owned by these three previously mentioned breweries.
5.81% of you don’t drink beer.
Now this poll was not the most accurate, I just spent an afternoon interviewing a little over a hundred students in the hallways. Maybe all the imported ale drinkers were sick on that particular day. Maybe all the interviewees where drunk. But the margin of error can’t be that far off.
So do labels really influence what we are willing to ooze down our throats?
‘‘I drink Bud and Corona because they have always been there as a fateful friend and never let me down,’’ said Yannick London, a first semester general social science student.
‘‘I don’t like beer too much, but when I’m stuck drinking it, I drink what my friends drink. And that’s usually Coors Light. Isn’t that what everyone else drinks?’’ said Jacinthe Lucas, a Cegep du Vieux Montreal student.
Statistics and what seems to be general opinion dictate that what has a larger marketing force is considered the drink of choice, but taste buds beg to differ. If time and currency are momentarily expendable, one should drop by an SAQ and try something that not only I, but beer specialists and connoisseurs worldwide consider as a tastier brew. Belgian Trappist ales are always promise of taste, if they are not of access, Czech Pilsners, German wheat beers or Belgian Lambics are a second-must.
In the meanwhile, I recommend drinking outside of the box. It may not be as comforting at first but I promise it will be worth your while.