The Craft vs. Crafty debate lingers after it’s utter explosion a few months ago. Plenty of people’s feelings were hurt. Heated debates ensued. This post may be late to the game, but I want to have transparency on where I stand. For anyone who has no idea what this GREAT BIG DEBATE is, here’s a brief overview: Big breweries like Anheuser Busch and Miller Coors are trying to weasel money out of craft beer drinkers’ pockets by selling beers under different brands that appear like small craft breweries. Many feel these are sneaky bullshit moves to fool consumers into buying their beers. These huge breweries are creating brands of beer that provide no connection to their mothership on their labels and, to the untrained eye, look like any other craft brewery’s labor of love. Hence the term, “Crafty.” Is this evil? Much like an asshole, this situation is shitty, stinks and I don’t want to get involved.
But don’t tell me an asshole has never made you curious. No one really wants to take a close look, but many of us do. The Craft vs. Crafty argument strikes a chord with me. A brief debate on Twitter provided good points on both sides and, like any good debate, made me look at my own beliefs to figure out where I stand on the issue and ultimately come to my own realization. Kind of like looking at my own asshole in a mirror.
It’s tough for me because I’m a man of two worlds. In general, I hate large corporations. Anything “Too big to fail” should just fail and let us start over like the end of Fight Club, with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton being bad asses and explosions all around. On the absolute contrary, I studied business marketing in college and am now paid to use many of the tools these giant ass clowns utilize to put up a smoke screen for consumers. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Harvey Dent and Two Face. Tyler Durden and the guy Ed Norton plays. All men of extreme duality trying to find peace with their two counterparts. Now I understand their plights.
Back to the Craft vs. Crafty argument, I stand by my “Fuck The Man” stance in some ways. Big business tends to suck the life out of a product because they’re completely profit driven. These giant breweries aren’t focused on new products to try and change the industry. They need to tickle their shareholders’ taints. With the current distribution model, these giant corporations basically OWN the industry and do absofuckinglutely nothing to better it. Now they’re using branding to try and get in on the craft beer revolution and take some easy dollars from uneducated consumers. It’s hard to feel like these guys really have any passion for beer and simply want to make a buck. I get it. That sucks, but hold onto the thought about uneducated consumers while I piss off half of the beer drinking community.
On the business end of this argument, I don’t feel they’re doing anything wrong. Utilizing brands as a way to sell a variety of products is not new, nor innovative in any way, shape or form. Car manufacturers utilize brands as a way to sell products to low, middle and high-income consumers or specialty groups like General Motors’ GMC, Chevrolet and Cadillac brands. Ford has their flagship brand, Mercury and Lincoln. Both companies owned ultra high-class brands before they went down the collective economic shitter in ‘08-‘09. Toyota, Nissan and Honda all use this strategy too.
In a whole different product world, Proctor and Gamble don’t use their name on a SINGLE product. They are basically a real life OCP. Don’t be surprised when they start making cyborg cops (If you don’t know who OCP is, stop reading my shit and watch Robocop right now because that analogy is gold). P&G have thousands of product lines and brands competing WITH THEMSELVES. Like laundry detergent? Most of them are made by P&G. Soap, shampoo and tons of other consumer products are created, branded, marketed and sold by P&G. They even own a number of CIGARETTE brands for shit’s sake and don’t tell me there aren’t different classes of CIGARETTES unless you willingly buy P-Funks and Marlboros and smoke all of them at once while giggling manically like a child that just snorted 10 pixie sticks.
Why am I talking about these two types of products? More analogy. Some people are “car people” and know everything about the vehicle they are going to purchase before they even step on the lot. A car person knows where and how it’s made, where the parts come from and how it ended up in front of them. Shit, even regular consumers do a small amount of research before buying a car. It’s a product people generally educate themselves about before purchasing. On the other hand, people will just look at in an advertisement for consumer products, laugh at the babies and puppies and use a coupon to get them as cheap as possible. It’s a mindless experience.
These are two broad examples and some might say, “They’re different than beer.” My retort in one word: Nofuckingway. This is the exact same tactic for the exact same purpose. Each brand comes with a certain message or image associated with it and is geared towards different segments of people. You think someone buying a Lexus really wants to brag to his friends driving Corollas about how their cars were built in the same factory? How about an Acura [Honda] or Infinity [Nissan] owner? The big beer guys are trying to create an image of their craft products to resonate with drinkers in this particular industry. I believe the real difference between cars and consumer products is consumer knowledge.
I want to end with a story where “crafty” tactics helped out one of the good guys. Several years back, Bell’s was facing their distribution rights being sold to another company. You heard this one? Larry Bell was afraid they weren’t going to get full brand representation (Meaning the big guys were going to get most of the shelf space) with the new distributor and, in response, ended up pulling his beer from the market altogether. HE PULLED ALL OF BELL’S BEER OUT OF ILLINIOIS. THAT’S WHERE CHICAGO IS. THAT’S MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. After that, he created a line of beers with new recipes and sold it under the Kalamazoo brand using a more supportive distributor. “Hello, The Man? Fuck you. Love, Larry” (Full disclosure: that was in no way, shape or form a quote from Larry Bell).
If Anheuser Busch and Miller Coors want to make crafty beers and sell them as craft beers, let them. What we must do is talk about beer sincerely and openly to make people see beer like cars instead of laundry detergent. It’s a HUGE oversimplification, but at the core it IS that simple. Let people drink what they want and not be dicks about it. Live and let drink; we don’t need to force our beerliefs on others but we should get these people to make their own choices. I can almost guarantee those that educate themselves will not side with the big breweries and craft brewers should WANT the educated consumer. These consumers spend their dollar how they want and not how The Man wants them to spend it. Trust me, I’m in marketing.
An open mind and a few beers can make anywhere an adventure.