Molson Coors’ bid to woo women with a ’feminine’ beer shows just how misguided and clumsy gender targeting can be.

I may be a woman, but I seem to have lost my sweet, ladylike nature when it comes to female-focused marketing. With the drinks industry launching several campaigns this summer especially for the girls, I’ve even created my own slogan for this targeting technique. It stinks to be pink.

Earlier this month, brewer Molson Coors announced it was creating a special beer for women. Its new product, Animée, comes in various forms including the feminine “crisp rosé” flavour and aims to get more ladies choosing beer as a drinking option. The product is “lightly sparkling”, which translates into real language as “shouldn’t make you belch as much as men’s beer”.

Molson Coors isn’t alone in the drinks world in hoping to convert more women to its products. A start-up in the US, Chick Beer created by a female entrepreneur aims to appeal to women’s concern over their weight by creating a lower-carb product with 97 calories per serving.

There are some product categories where gender definitely makes a difference to how we buy. Not too many men buy mascara, for example, so it makes sense for it to have an overtly female-focused marketing strategy. The same goes for dresses. Or high-heeled shoes.

Heineken campaign
Heineken campaign

But there are numerous sectors where gender makes little sense as a segmentation tool. It simply leads marketers to make patronising campaigns that fail to identify the product benefits for women (along with men). Beer is one of these categories. My friends and I like or dislike beers based on their taste. Or the quality of their ingredients. Or, quite often, their availability.

Even calorie counting doesn’t separate men and women these days. Take Australia’s Skinny Blonde beer. This low-carb beer is marketed at “taste makers and creative individuals”. If anything, it is vaguely focused on male drinkers, with a 1950s pin-up girl adorning the label. Or girls who like the retro look. Whatever. The gender of the drinker doesn’t matter since it has a genuine product difference that appeals to figure-conscious human beings in general.

Although Molson Coors claims to have based its launch of “lightly sparkling” Animée on research with more than 30,000 women, I’ve never heard a female complain about the levels of fizz in their beer. After all, these same people may well be drinking Diet Coke and champagne, so it seems likely they are pretty familiar with the concept of a gaseous drink.

Yet it’s fair enough that drinks companies want more customers. Molson Coors says that in the UK, 79% of women never or rarely drink beer. And Chick Beer says women account for just 25% of US beer sales. Meanwhile, the overall UK beer market saw volume sales fall by 7.3% in the last six months. Any business looking at those figures would want to find a way to convert people into customers.

But I think beer brands are going about it the wrong way. They may well be missing out on the cash of a percentage of people who don’t like the taste or find beer too calorific, but these are not necessarily women. They are people waiting to be served by new product development.

Carlsberg campaign
Carlsberg campaign

More interesting than launching “girls’ beer” is that there are more women than ever running breweries and creating genuinely tasty products for everyone, such as Sara Barton at Brewsters Brewery and Kathy Britton at Oldershaw Brewery. When you have women involved with creating the drinks, they are creating a culture of women having an interest in beer.

The real issue here is that mainstream drinks companies often use marketing that excludes women. I can’t remember the last time I saw a beer ad that featured a mix of men and women enjoying the product together. Nah, it’s all (male) mates down the pub and blokey humour.

Think about it. The original, iconic Budweiser “Wassup?” ad featured a group of guys all fooling around, shouting down the phone at each other. I guess their female friends just weren’t in on the joke. Meanwhile, a Heineken ad features women screaming on seeing a wardrobe filled with clothes while men screech at a wardrobe filled with beer. Yes, it’s laughing at stereotypes, but the underlying message being reinforced by that ad is “women love frilly stuff, while blokes love grog”.

I could go on and on. The same lack of women drinking beer that companies are now complaining about is a sign of just how successful brands have been at their marketing up until now. They have wanted men; they have got men.

Fosters' campaign
Fosters’ campaign

After I initially blogged about my concerns over female-focused marketing last week a male colleague asked: “But don’t women want to know there is a beer out there just for them? Doesn’t that make them feel like a brand is addressing their needs?”

My answer: no. For hundreds of years, beer companies haven’t needed women and their marketing has reflected that. You might say that women who have bought beer have done so purely because of the product benefits; after all, they haven’t seen any marketing focused at enticing them in. They are not shying away from beer. They are possibly the industry’s most motivated customers. They buy beer despite the marketing.

So with that in mind, why don’t beer companies create some true-to-life marketing campaigns that involve women (along with men) drinking beer in social situations? Without the need for pink bottles or crude stereotypes? Or go into high-profile partnerships with women brewers to highlight their work and jog female interest?

Come on, drinks companies. Make women drinking beer a marketing normality and perhaps then society will follow.