Close your eyes and picture a beer drinker. Chances are you’ll have conjured up a white, possibly bearded, man with a pint of cold lager in front of him.
As marketers we must accept some responsibility for this. We know, better than most, that perception matters. And if beer is perceived as a 'male drink', women will order elsewhere on the menu. In the UK, while 87% of women have drunk alcohol in the past four weeks, just 39% had a beer.
Yet, before the industrialisation of brewing began, women were the original brewers and all over the world women enjoy beer alongside men. So where are we going wrong here? And what can we do to make beer more inclusive, to be enjoyed as the great social equaliser that it is?
First, we should recognise that women do in fact drink beer: research from the Society of Independent Brewers in March 2020, before the pandemic forced bars and pubs to close, found the number of women drinking beer more than once a week had almost doubled from 6% to 11%.
But according to the great Gender Pint Gap report by Dea Latis, the biggest barrier to women drinking beer is – drum roll – that it has typically been advertised towards men.
Yes, it’s on us. Some of the most famous historic beer ads – and some of our own, admittedly – feature an all-male cast, or women who appear as simply subjects of desire. While this wouldn’t happen now, we have a lot of macho baggage to unpack and a lot to make right.
In recent years, the focus of my team (half of whom are women, all beer fans) has not only been on gender inclusive advertising but moving towards more progressive and inspirational campaigns.
In 2019, Budweiser became the sponsor of the England Women’s Football team, marking our first ever sponsorship of women’s football. As the team embarked on their FIFA World Cup bid, our campaign rallying the nation to throw its full support behind them took inspiration from history. We enlisted a group of contemporary, powerful English women from the worlds of sport, music and film, including Bond actress Naomie Harris; boxer Nicola Adams and singer-songwriter Jessie Ware to recreate Queen Elizabeth I’s famous “Heart and Stomach of a King” speech.
This shows that at its best, beer advertising can be moving, powerful and perception-changing. This is the benchmark we hold for ourselves.
Of course, this goes beyond advertising, as well. Put simply, we need to make sure beer appeals – promoting different styles, varieties (and sizes beyond the standard pint). The great news is there’s more choice than ever before. I challenge anyone who says they don’t like the taste of beer to try as many styles as possible: pale ales, blonde lagers, wheat beers, fruit sours, dark stouts, rich porters... There are also more light, alcohol-free and gluten-free variants than ever before, opening it up to even more people and occasions.
Finally, even further beyond advertising and product appeal, as a company that brews around a quarter of beers drunk globally, we have a duty to reflect the consumers we serve. We must ensure women are represented at every level of our business, and are sat around every table where decisions are taken. Progress is being made here – for a traditionally male-dominated industry, women now make up 38% of our salaried workforce in Europe, and the proportion of female directors in Europe has increased by ten percentage points, to 31% since 2016.
We know there is more to do. We must do a better job to attract, develop and promote women in beer, embracing diverse opinions and experiences and reaping the benefits that this will bring to the wider industry. We must also challenge outdated, non-inclusive macho behaviour in beer, head on. It’s time.
Rowan Chidgey is marketing director Europe, global brands at AB InBev. She is a member of Campaign's Power 100.