Why beer can learn from spirits

05 September, 2018

In the spirits industry, brands are much better at taking a stance; they know they’re not for everyone and they’re ok with it. That fact alone gives them the leeway to carve out a space they can call their own.

Mass beer brands need to stop trying to appeal to everyone. In a world where we’re all striving to define ourselves through the brand choices we make, mass beer needs to give people a reason to buy their beer. People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Taking this path might mean some short term suffering. But it could also be the reason they’ll survive in the long term.


Spirits have got it right, and there’s so much to be inspired by with some brands. Look at what Illegal Mezcal did in the streets of Miami, New York and LA. They rose to fame by plastering the walls with anti-Trump propaganda posters. It was all in the timing - they were quick to respond to Trump’s announcement that he was running for president and they benefitted from their bold approach. It was clear they weren’t Trump fans - understandable coming from a Mexican brand.

OK, so there were people who disagreed with the campaign – they won’t be grabbing a bottle of their mezcal any time soon - but they made a real connection with millions of others.

This approach may not work for mass beer brands because mezcal is niche and Illegal Mezcal is a relatively small brand. But look at Smirnoff - the number one brand in the number one spirits category by volume in US. In 2017 they launched a series of out-of-home ads across the US featuring the claim:

“Made in America. But we’d be happy to talk about our ties to Russia under oath.”

That statement was in response to growing calls for President Trump to talk about alleged ties to Russia under oath. This type of marketing is keeping brands like Smirnoff right at the top.


Despite Guinness’ example, the beer industry’s been complacent in celebrating progressive attitudes. Few beers support the LGBTQ community for example, while 
Stolichnaya Vodka has had great success through their long relationship with them.

The question that mass beer needs to ask itself is what does it believe in as a brand? What change does it want to make? Carrying on regardless is not an option. And pleasing everyone is impossible.

The biggest learning from the spirits world and from the craft beer movement is about committing to being ‘you’.

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