Time’s Up for sexist craft beer marketing

The UK craft beer business is the latest industry to take a stand against sexism and discrimination. It may not be as headline grabbing as the #TimesUp movement shaking up the film and TV industry, but it’s a historic development for what has come across up to now as a distinctly blokey business, in terms of its marketing and branding.

Following a recent Board meeting of independent brewers in Burton on Trent, the Society of Independent Brewers is moving forward with plans to create a marketing ‘Code of Practice’ for its members. SIBA members and a panel of experts will be examining the issues around offensive marketing and the best way to develop the code with an industry discussion on “Marketing beer responsibly – Sexism, discrimination and branding in the beer industry” at this year’s BeerX conference in Liverpool on March 14-15.

SIBA staff members already screen competition entries at their UK wide Independent Beer Awards for offensive labelling. This new project aims to formalise that approach and give further guidance to breweries. SIBA have said it would like to see an industrywide approach, with everyone in the alcohol industry working together to tackle this problem, and has been engaging fully with the Portman Group as part of its industry wide discussions.

Speaking in a video interview produced by SIBA for their members, SIBA’s Chief Executive Mike Benner insists there is no room for sexism in beer:

“From a commercial perspective being sexist or discriminatory means you are cutting off routes to market and excluding people from your product. Beer is for everyone and all different occasions. We already screen our competition entries but we need to go further, hence the Code. We need to be proactive, so brewers can see whether something they propose might be offensive. “

Just how far will the reforms go? SIBA Head of Public Affairs James Calder explained:

“We envision the final code of practice will set out simple, broad guidelines of what is, and what isn’t acceptable for SIBA’s professional brewing businesses. After the BeerX discussion, SIBA’s Standards and Ethics Committee with Jaega Wise, SIBA South East Elected Director and Head Brewer at Wild Card Brewery, and led by Carolyn Uphill, SIBA Non-Executive Director, will move swiftly to produce something which will go to our board. In terms of detail and how far it will go, this will be informed largely by the discussion we have with our members at BeerX and part of a wider consultation to make sure we’re striking the right balance. Nothing is set in stone yet. This is the beginning of the discussion, not the end, but we’re heading in the right direction. Above all we’re keen to give members guidance and help.”

Is Britain’s beer industry in danger of becoming over cautious, for fear of disapproval?

James Calder doesn’t think so: “This isn’t about being cautious necessarily; it’s about being mindful of the kind of industry we work in and where we would, as professional brewing businesses collectively like to lead it. One of the best things about independent craft beer is its ability to be agile, fleet of foot and edgy when it comes to marketing products. We absolutely don’t want that to stop. That, in many cases, is what gives one brewer a distinct advantage over its competitors. But there is a big difference between being edgy and being deliberately offensive. The vast majority of brewers advertise and market their products sensibly, and with regard to not deliberately causing offence. It is, like many things, a tiny minority of operators who bring the wider profession into disrepute.”

Which begs the question – what results can we expect from this new sensitivity? Is this the end of, for instance, the relationship between beer and darts and other traditionally “masculine” pursuits?

James Calder insists: “Absolutely not. Quality beer is and should be accessible for all occasions, for all people. SIBA, representing craft beer, may have taken the big first step in this discussion, but we are keen for there to be an industry wide solution to this problem. We are in discussions about this with the Portman Group and other industry bodies representing other segments of the market.  All SIBA members sign up to the Portman Group Code of Practice, but as sexism and offensive marketing isn’t currently part of the Portman Group Code, we’re looking for ways to help.”

And finally, if the SIBA Code goes ahead, will the regional breweries soon feel they can’t use “traditional” real ale imagery in their branding and packaging any more? James replies:

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with tradition and celebrating heritage, that’s one of the great things about this industry!”

You can find the full interview with SIBA’s Chief Executive Mike Benner, in response to a question from members on sexism as part of #AskSIBA:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jgFgTpjZXA

SIBA
Society of Independent Brewers
Head Office: 01765 640441
www.siba.co.uk