Perhaps because I’ve spent the last ~5 years exterminating grammatical bugs from technical documentation, or because I’m genetically predisposed to noticing non-parallel structure, I tend to nitpick. I can’t read without testing each word, each sentence, swirling them around in my mouth, seeing if they work and how, or don’t and why.
As I was poring over the latest issue of DRAFT Magazine, I came across the ad shown below. At a glance, it’s a full page yet minimalist piece of anti-drunk driving copy from 2011 (part of the “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” campaign), and overall, an admirable attempt to connect to beer enthusiasts and remind them of the seriousness and prevalence of irresponsible drinking. On the surface, it works. It catches my attention, and I get the idea.
But take a closer look:
Notice anything? The non-beer people might not see anything too strange. But this is an ad about consuming beer, in a magazine marketed towards beer-people. A magazine that is read (and written) by some of the country’s most enthusiastic brew supporters.
Anyone who knows even the basic facts about beer will realize that this ad is so inherently flawed, it had to have been written by someone who either 1) read all they know about beer in a SkyMall catalog on their connecting flight to New York an hour before this was due, or 2) didn’t bother to fact check anything because pffft who cares, it’s just beer. If they had only asked the managing editor’s weird nephew – the one with the big, bushy beard – to read it before it went into print, he’d have pointed out that:
- You don’t usually add pilsner as the base beer for a black and tan (never mind that “pilsner lager” is sort of redundant), you almost always use a pale ale
- If you do use a lager, it’s called a “half and half”
- Stout – the second, equally important part of the black and tan mambo – is an ale, not a lager
- There is no such thing as a stout lager (unless you mean a strong lager, or this fermented identity crisis)
- They suggest the drink be served in a frosty mug, which is to many beer drinkers a form of sacrilege (and the pictured glass is a weizen glass, not a mug)
- You would never casually “mix” the black and tan ingredients together as it would ruin the whole aesthetic (and point of the drink)
And those are just the obvious, glaring mistakes. I’ll say little of the fact that the “recipe” adds another “ingredient” (perhaps as a mangled, flaming garnish?) after the whole thing is already complete, which is baffling from a culinary and copywriting perspective. I’d also wager that most 10-hour-a-day working, pick-up truck driving, “tired workers” aren’t going to be ordering black and tans at their local watering holes (if said bars even carry a stout of any kind and staff bartenders who know how to pour one).
This whole ad is just bizarre. It’s like they got the framework right – a nice picture of a beer, a recipe connection to the content of DRAFT magazine – but then just stopped. And this isn’t from some local MADD group with no budget, or small time social advocacy movement, this is from the freaking US Department of Transportation in conjunction with the Ad Council.
I know what you’re thinking, “Who cares, Oliver?” It’s a fair question. The aim of the ad was to raise awareness about drunk driving, which I suppose it does. But I care. And I’m sure others still trying to rescue beer’s image from frat-houses and dive bars care too. Can you imagine the reaction from the wine community if a similar ad had been run in Wine Enthusiast claiming that Merlot was a type of white wine and Malbec hailed from Australia?
It’s a symptom of a bigger disease. Several of the speakers at the Craft Writing Symposium pointed out that despite our boom of talented, brilliant brewers and the complexity and breadth of modern American brewing, the image still most associated with beer is fizzy, yellow, and stupid.
This ad reinforces that. To put this into DRAFT magazine with so many obvious flaws strikes me as lazy, but more importantly, shows a complete disregard for the target audience. This ad suggests, through it’s ineptitude, that beer people are stupid. That we won’t notice the details because we’re just swill slugging monkeys. That the best way to connect to us is with a pretty picture and as few simple words as possible.
I’ll be the standard bearer who charges into the breach for my friends and colleagues:
Attention all media people outside of craft! Craft beer people are smart.
In a lot of cases, very smart. In a country with disturbingly poor scientific literacy, craft beer people walk around talking about yeast and sugar chemistry like other people talk about their favorite TV shows. Craft beer people have palates refined by hundreds of hours and ounces of tasting and understand the intimate details of how their tongues and noses and brains work. Craft beer people read closely, and carefully, and notice when they’re being treated like sub-drinkers.
There’s a reason craft has such a vocal, vociferous, possibly vexing fan base. We understand the product we love. We’re smart about what we buy and what we drink, all subjectivity about taste aside. We’re also growing – pretty rapidly – in numbers. So please, advertisers, and social media people, and whatever poor editor is dealt the “beer column” in your local paper: take the time to fact check your beer articles, keeping in mind that we’re as legitimate a sub-culture as wine or scotch or bourbon.
Craft beer is smart. If you don’t want to fall behind, you should get smart about craft beer.