Why are beer brands still ignoring women?

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Sex still sells beer, but not the way you think, writes a senior creative at Iris Worldwide.

Buckle up friends, the Super Bowl is almost upon us. The Big Game has always delighted during play and, for us industry folks, during the breaks in between. Each year macrobeer brands attempt to attract lovers of suds with new angles, but most never stray too far from the standard male gaze "sex sells" marketing strategy.

However, in response to a growing demand from women, marketing focused on the fairer sex is winning out. Some brands have started refocusing their efforts with much success. Others are either missing the mark, or simply shirking the idea completely.  

One macrobrew brand has lead the way for properly positioning themselves as a beer equally suited for men and women. Michelob Ultra has steadily built their brand around a unisex, more realistic stance. As a result the company has been rewarded by market seeing a 10 percent increase since 2014. They’ve taken that success and ran. Their digital channels show a female-forward message with content that plays perfectly to the fairer sex. From the grit of fitness enthusiasm to the times spent with loved ones, the target of their marketing is quite clear. It’s not that Michelob is turning into a "female-only" beer either. They’re simply telling an authentic story, and it connects with both sexes.

Despite the consumer shift being so obvious a lot of beer brands, big and small, completely shirk the notion of female-first messaging. One such brand, Miller Lite, seems to have pumped up testosterone in their marketing and positioning. The messaging they put forth in their social storytelling is that of returning to their masculine roots: football. And although the NFL’s female viewership has skyrocketed, it’s still a male dominated sport, and one that’s associated with machismo.

Macrobeer brands aren’t the only culprits. One would think with the fledgling status of craft beer, that they’d be more inclined to the shift. Despite a burgeoning beer subculture that runs the gamut of messaging and visual styles, the majority has a consistently masculine vibe. From identity, naming and packaging through messaging, advertising and marketing, the craft beer world oozes with testosterone.

Men have dominated the demographic since the beginning, but women can no longer be overlooked. Their palettes continue to grow fond of beer styles from the classic light lager to the hoppy IPA. They crave way more than a Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Gose, and they’re showing it in their growing percentage of purchases. However, despite the numbers, we see an industry too scared to shirk the good ol’ boy feeling and inch itself out of a comfort zone long overdue for upheaval.

Fleishman-Hillard projects that over the next decade, women will account for two-thirds of consumer wealth in the U.S. Numbers like this combined with Michelob Ultra’s increase in market share make it quite clear that brands who refuse to rethink their masculinity will not fare well. But, where how does one start the pivotal shift towards an even keeled brand voice?

Beer is usually enjoyed in social settings as a conduit for a good time and celebration. We’ve all experienced memorable moments drinking beer with good company. Parties, gatherings, time with friends, and game days are all examples of beer-forward events that drive consumption and fuel genuine enthusiasm. These moments aren’t exclusive to either gender, because they’re common to every person who breathes. That commonality leaves the door wide open for depicting a more inclusive approach to branding, positioning and marketing beverages brands.

If beer brands can tap into key moments that strike a chord with both genders concurrently, they can dodge the clichés, and create a brand that’s open to the entire craft beer audience. One good example of a craft brewery that’s taken the leap into an image that’s even keeled and pan-gender is Troegs Brewery out of Pennsylvania. They shifted their identity earlier this year from a classic, expected look that appealed mostly to men, to a unique look with softer elements that opens the door to both male and female beer enthusiasts. From the outside looking in, the change has been a well-timed, well-executed maneuver at a moment in the industry's life where it desperately needs something new and refreshing. And if one craft brand isn’t enough, there’s always Michelob Ultra steadily leading the way.

Startup brands take note, and to the brands already rocking the male-first messaging: guys, it’s time to take down the "No Girls Allowed" sign on the clubhouse. Women want to have fun with the brands that speak to them like humans and not as dainty second thoughts. We have to approach beverage brands with the understanding that male-dominated messaging no longer sells, and that selling to both sexes is a winning strategy. Will this be what we see during this year’s game, or will we be subjected to the ticked boxes of past strategies? I hope we see a step in the right direction.