Sexist beer marketing: Meanwhile in Nova Scotia

A  few months ago I wrote a blog post discussing sexist marketing in beer and I called out–and chatted with–some Ontario breweries about marketing efforts I felt objectified women.

In the interim, there have been some changes worth noting. Whitewater Brewing, the Ottawa Valley area brewer who makes “Farmer’s Daughter Blonde,” has quietly updated the branding for that can and appears to have renamed their seasonal “Farmer’s Daughter’s Melons” to the decidedly less cringe-inducing “Watermelon Blonde.”

Niagara Brewing Company, the makers of “Amber Eh!,” an American-style Amber that features a semi-naked female lumberjack on the can, took the less strategic but still effective approach of responding to my repeated inquiries by simply blocking me on social media. I guess that works.

The other breweries mentioned have, to date, continued business as usual; including continuing to use the cans that I discussed.

As first reported here in August, Garnet Pratt Siddall, the then-newly-appointed chair of the Ontario Craft Brewers who spoke candidly with me for my article about sexist beer in the industry, has been terminated as the CEO of Collingwood’s Side Launch Brewing Co.

I’ve also confirmed with the OCB that she has likewise subsequently resigned as the chair and director of that organization. It remains to be seen who her replacement will be and, as such, it’s unclear whether the de facto figurehead of Ontario’s only organization advocating for small brewers will share Siddall’s interest in making changes related to offensive marketing.

Interestingly though, one of the most promising changes to come about since my article, and apparently as a result of it, comes not from Ontario, but rather from Nova Scotia.

Shortly after my February 2017 blog post, I started getting emails from Jeremy White. White is the founder and “alesmith” of Big Spruce Brewing in Cape Breton and also a member of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS). CBANS is made up of 34 member breweries across Nova Scotia and their stated objective is to act as the unified voice of the craft beer industry to government and the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC — essentially their LCBO). White, and by extension CBANS, were inspired to take action in response to the tendency for beer names, labels, and beer marketing to skew toward the distasteful and offensive and, after a series of emails, White decided to actually do something about it.

Accordingly, at their annual general meeting, after what White calls “some spirited debate,” CBANS passed the following motion:

Whereas the Nova Scotia craft beer industry strives to uphold the fundamental principles of inclusiveness and equality to all in the carrying out of day to day activities, be it resolved that the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia formally encourages members to operate equal and supportive workplaces, and to pledge zero tolerance of discrimination in their marketing practices.

White tells me that it is the intention of the association to now form a working committee to see about turning this into a policy statement or bylaw.

I also spoke with Emily Tipton, part owner of Boxing Rock Brewing and President of CBANS, about the motion passed at their most recent AGM. “Members unanimously endorsed the notion that discrimination in any form has no place in the Nova Scotia craft beer industry,” she says. “This motion sends a strong message to the beer industry and our consumers that we will strive to ensure our operations, both on the brewery floor, and in our marketing, are free of discrimination.”

“For me,” White added, “doing something about sexism in industry marketing was crucial because I’d feel I was letting my wife and family down if I did not. My wife Melanie is my partner in everything including Big Spruce. I have a two year old daughter. I just felt I could not stay silent about this and look them in the eye and feel I was doing everything to promote equality and zero discrimination in my industry.”

White also adds that, over the summer, Big Spruce grew its work force to 13 employees, and five of those employees are women. He also notes that, of five senior management positions, three are held by women.

“Let me be clear,” he adds “the reason we preach this is not only because it is the right thing to do, but because women bring a great, dynamic perspective to our business.”

For Tipton, the motion seems to be simply an extension of the ethos of the industry in her province. “The Nova Scotia craft beer industry prides itself in being a progressive and tolerant industry and we know that in order to eliminate discrimination in any industry we must do so with a collective effort,” she says. “This motion is designed to organize the industry unanimously behind this very important objective.”

In the United States, in April 2017–and quite certainly not in response to anything some Canadian blogger had to say–the Brewers Association likewise issued a statement on its pursuit of diversity and issued a new code of conduct that included specific items related to sexist and offensive marketing. This decision, as you might expect, was fairly roundly met with enthusiasm–with the notable exception of Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery, who promptly quit the BA after the new code was announced, with Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso calling the BA’s decision “nothing more than a thinly veiled side door to censorship.”

Flying Dog makes a beer called Doggie Style Pale, an oyster stout called Pearl Necklace, and are perhaps best known for their Belgian IPA, Raging Bitch, a beer with a label that features a drawing of dog with visible labia. Caruso called efforts to enforce some standard of decency on BA members, “anti-free enterprise” noted that the idea is “interfering with their competitors’ business” and called it “thinking for consumers.”

I asked White what he thought about imposing restrictions on what a brewer can and can’t say about their own product. “My personal opinion is that yes, a brewery can say what they want or market as they choose,” he says. “However, they should never be permitted to do so in the name of Nova Scotia Craft Beer, and they should have to realize that in so doing the public deserves a right to debate their position. Personally I feel any objectification is wrong.”

And I most certainly have to agree with White. Brewers certainly are entitled to sell their product any way they see fit, but if they want to belong to a trade organization or an advocacy association, they should be held to certain standards in order to continue being part of that organization. Indeed, to my mind, that should be one of the main tenants of any such organization. In my experience, people like Flying Dog’s Caruso, who cry censorship or–increasingly as of late, bemoan an abundance of “political correctness,”– are mostly people pissed off they can’t keep saying dumb and offensive shit. Caruso, in my opinion, like other brewers who might follow suit, has chosen juvenile, offensive jokes over membership to an organization that advances the industry and, to me, this is short sighted and ignorant.

What exactly will be the end result of similar action in Nova Scotia remains to seen, but White is encouraged by the response thus far. “What we do about this, and how we determine what crosses the line, is now up to the board and a possible committee that we intend to set up, but I am optimistic about the opportunity that stands before us. The one or two instances of where I personally feel Nova Scotia breweries are crossing the line right now represents a chance for them to do the right thing. What better marketing opportunity is there than that?”

For now, their efforts remain only a statement of intent, approved by the members, and actual action is yet to follow. But, hey, that’s certainly better than a lot of other jurisdictions and if there’s going to be a sea change in Canada’s beer marketing, it may as well start in Nova Scotia.



25 thoughts on “Sexist beer marketing: Meanwhile in Nova Scotia

  1. Spot on, glad to hear about these changes.

    One comment:

    The girl on the “Amber Eh” can is dressed more modestly than most of the women I saw on my way to work today. Calling her “semi-naked” is a fairly Puritan, paternalistic view (dare I say “slut shaming”?), which I think is probably contrary to the stance you’re trying to advocate.

    1. Well, the women you saw on the way to work are real people and chose to dress that way, as is their right. I have no issue with any one dressing in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Go topless if that’s your thing. I’m no puritan.
      The woman on this can though isn’t real. She’s a marketing device, presumably dreamed up by a bunch of dudes, and thus seems to me to be a literal example of objectification. I don’ think you can’t slut shame a mascot. It’s not a real person owning her body and sexuality. It’s just crass salesmanship.

  2. Kudos to Jeremy and the CBANS for taking this stand. The craft beer industry on Canada’s east coast has skyrocketed in the last 5-10 years and a good chunk of the success is due to women… As brewers, other brewery employees, bloggers, event planners and consumers.

  3. One wonders where you work if “most of the women” you see were wearing less clothing than a shirt, shorts, and boots. The beach perhaps? Ridiculous.
    As to the label for “Amber Eh?” it’s curious why the marketers would choose a pointedly sexist label when, presumably, they hope to sell their craft beer to women as well as men. Why not have a label that better represents the name -say – a block of amber carved to emulate some part of the Niagara Escarpment, that would appeal and bring pride to all who call that part of Ontario home? Crass sales”man”ship indeed…

    1. There’s a fundamental problem with this argument. How is a voice that’s already marginalized (and not the majority) in an industry, e.g., female beer consumers supposed to make enough of a “dent” for this type of action to be noticed? Speaking out – and having the courage to speak out *for others* – is the only effective way to further a dialogue.

  4. I think if you read this you will want to read beyond the first paragraph.

    Unfortunately sex in marketing has been happening forever. Well before any of us were born. Sex sells regardless if you have a woman on a beer can or a a half naked man pouring italian dressing on his body. Just about every industry inbetween you see half naked men and women to sell the product. If objectification was was such a concern. Why isn’t there any mention of Stella Artois and some of their advertising? Why is Absolut free reign to use half naked men? Why does Terry tate flex is pecks for Old Spice? Shouldn’t this be a concern with how this is portrayed across the board? Shouldn’t this be broadened to more than just a few beer cans used in craft beer advertising and expanded to sex in marketing?

    Recently With Magic Mike storming the world I recall seeing a bunch of women raving about how they couldn’t wait to see Channing Tatum in the buff. We seen alot of hype but where was all the fuss? What if a brewery had a bare assed Sidney Crosby on the label? What would the response be? I’m sure it would be pretty close to the response Channing Tatum received when he stripped down for the world and the beer would be the best selling beer in Nova Scotia. Even if it was just harbor water.

    I’m sure these smaller companies and larger corporations that deploy these methods of advertising also have strict policies around sexual harassment and discrimination. Yet nudity in general is often employed in their marketing. Why because it sells! Nudity is employed in Marketing as a whole.

    However I don’t care about the above in a sense that sex is in marketing. It’s everywheres. What irritates me isn’t that there was a concern regarding sex in marketing; that this was focused towards women, or that a pink elephant had blue dots.

    What concerned me is the direction CBANS is looking to take. If this is permitted wouldn’t this be against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Pretty sure this would go against our freedom of expression. Obviously people will get offended because of ___________. You fill in the blank and you’ll find someone who found it offensive; but at what point should censorship come into play? What’s next? Jeremy sex is used across the board in marketing. I figure you would be one who would be against any form of censorship good or bad.

    1. I’m not sure where to start here, Keith, and while I’m tempted to start with half naked men pouring Italian dressing on themselves… maybe this simple analogy will help: If the person being portrayed in a sexual manner is part of or owns the portrayal, it’s typically not objectification. Channing Tatum, as in your example of that movie that recently stormed the world five years ago, is not being objectified per se because he signed up for the role of a stripper and, presumably, expected and even welcomed the ogling that resulted in that movie. A fictional women, drawn with huge breasts or with her ass hanging out or whatever, is not someone who was involved with the creation of the product or the marketing and doesn’t have ownership or control if it and thus this is using a woman as an object to sell something, and it’s shitty.
      I’m focusing on craft beer, because a) that’s what I write about and b) generally speaking, craft beer seems to stand for something “better” than the big guys you mention. Craft brewers (generally) care about quality ingredients, a sense of community, etc. I’m being broad here, but I’d like to see the same efforts to be “better” extend to the lazy marketing and boob jokes that typified much of macro beer. I could write about sex in all of marketing, just as a journalist covering a homicide in Pittsburgh could write a piece about all murders, but typically these issues are tackled in smaller parcels.
      Finally, it’s not in violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms to hold members of an organization accountable to a code of conduct. Many a club has bylaws that are not in lock step with actual laws. If I started throwing the word “fuck” around the day care board of directors meeting, for example, I probably wouldn’t last long, the group would be right to kick me off, and I would not have much of a federal case relating to a violation of my rights.

      1. brilliant as always Ben! Not just a great piece, your professional replies and rebuttals help frame the issue perfectly.

      2. I do appreciate your passion behind beer; we are all human; have an opinion and these discussions are great. I agree craft beer in general tends to appear that it stands for something better; however there has been some shady happenings that occur in the craft beer world. Quite often much of this never gets a light shined on it; and not something we need to divert this topic to.

        Possibly I’m confused on the meaning or have a different view behind objectification. However someone dreams an idea; complete fiction; holds auditions for the part and finds we will say “subject a” fits the part they are looking for. Yet this is more accepted than if someone drew a logo? Either way wouldn’t both be use sex to sell a product? Be it a female cartoon lumber jack or a live naked man. It is highly unlikely that he woke up and pitched an idea to Kraft saying i’ll that he would love to naked and pour some zesty dressing on his body. But really sex will always be in marketing. If it’s male or female. Some is distasteful and I’m not here to argue that. As a note Magic Mike was a bad example. Apparently my wife pointed out it’s based on his younger years and is somewhat factual. So I appologize about that. For arguement sake lets use He-Man as a poor example. Near buff male cartoon. What if I gave him a beer and used him on a logo.

        On the whole article there was 2 things I didn’t care for. The 1 sided approach to objectification of women in craft beer? Why not tackle it head on and shed light on sex in craft beer marketing as a whole? yea I know this article was solely focused on women in craft beer. Not saying I agree or disagree but if you are to write something my opinion (that’s all it is) the approach should be inclusive not just exclusive to women.

        The part which is why I posted is that CBANS would be willing to restrict the freedom of expression to their members on this. I’m aware this isn’t a violation of Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms for them to write their own bylaw and standards that members are are held against. Was just used as an example of what CBANS shouldn’t implement. If they allow this, it will only open the flood gates. When would happen when it is implemented? Really gives them free reign to dictate to their members what’s allowed or not allowed.

        Will they force Saltbox brewing to rebrand “Nun on the Run” (very likely after the movie) but someone will likely find it offensive?

        Will they tell good robot what videos they can\can’t post on their facebook page because of content?

        What about Trider’s… Rod’s Red. You can only see the upper body but he’s naked and drinking a beer from what we can see. How about Brew-Deau? In their marketing… “Is it the hair? The good looks? Family history? Nah, it’s the beer!” It’s unlikely Tredeau signed up for this… You can’t say that label doesn’t have sex appear written all over it.

        Look at Propellers One Hit Wonder All Tapped Out IPA. Has topless wrestlers. Sure they are wrestlers but this is ok? Why isn’t it in the article as an example? What if it were 2 female wrestlers? Would it be included then?

        Anyways that’s my 2 cents. Looking forward to your input and encourage others to contribute.

  5. To date, there has only been one NS brewery who’s marketing has left a bad taste in my mouth, with its blatant objectification of women. I voiced my concern to the owner at an event and the reply was along the lines of “if you can’t have fun in the beer industry, where can you?”

    1. You’ll recall your first comment–in addition to calling me a smug imbecile and including the phrase “rail the crap outta that girl,”–also opened with this: “Tip of the cap to Niagara Brewing Company for doing what every company should when an SJW walks in screeching about issues that don’t exist: Ignore. Block. Maximum disrespect, issued.”

      I simply took your advice on how to deal with opinions with which one doesn’t agree and deleted your screeching. Have a nice day.

  6. I’ve been a fan of your site for a little while because I agree with half of your posts and disagree with the other half. Either way they usually spark some kind of conversation around the dinner table (or bar). This is not a one sided argument as you seem to have made it. This is a debate and both sides may have some merit.

    Those claiming censorship have built brands- not just for their beer, but in the example you gave of Flying Dog Brewery, it seems their entire Company- to convey who they are. There are brands and labels out there that offend people. I’m sure the list is extensive. Should they be forced out of organizations because of this?

    Then on the side you seem to be advocating, I get a sense of progress. You mention a lot of “doing the right thing” and the fact that it’s 2017, and that these campaigns no longer have a place in today’s market. There’s also talk of ethics relating to having children exposed to advertising campaigns. I can understand that to a point. The drinking age is 19 (21) after all.

    I can also understand the point that was made in the previous article about women in the industry. They are a fast-growing and important part of our industry. Many have experienced sexism or offensive experiences numerous times and absolutely, that is wrong. Is it tied to the sexism in marketing? Yes. How much? I’m not sure.

    At the end of the day the OCB is an organization that represents all Ontario Craft Brewers regardless of marketing. Why should that disclude people based on some sort of neo-marketing ethics disclaimer? Who decides what is sexist and offensive and what isn’t? If it offends so many people, we ban it? Or do we call up Potter Stewart- He knows it when he sees it.

  7. Always puzzled me why beer marketing should cut out half of the market before it even gets going. There’s nothing metabolically anti-beer in women; why not sell them the stuff? Brewers only stand to gain from increasing the number of potential customers.

  8. I just like a good beer. If it’s good, I couldn’t give a rats ass about the name, or the picture on the label. If it’s bad, I won’t drink it. Where does it end? Soon, Moosehead is going to have to produce a label with a female moose on it, because it is sexist only to have a moose with horns on the label. What about Gay Moose, and Transgendered Moose, Albino Moose, then we have to consider the feelings of Midget Moose too, sounds silly

Leave a Reply to steveforthedeaf Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s