Beer Ads That Portray Women as Empowered Consumers, Not Eye Candy

A still from a new Coors Light commercial. Beer companies are rethinking the frat house sensibility that long defined their ads.

For years, one of the main criticisms of beer advertising was that it tended to either objectify women or disregard them entirely. Marketers seemed to be too busy trying to appeal to the young male audience they knew would consistently drink beer by the case to worry about anyone else.

Now, that appears to be changing.

Allen Adamson, the former chairman of the brand consulting firm Landor Associates, said the fraternity house imagery and sophomoric humor that long defined many beer campaigns has come “under siege,” led by millennials who are more conscientious about male chauvinism.

With more consumers switching to craft beers — which grew to 10.7 percent of the dollar share in 2015, according to Nielsen — and beer’s already having lost 10 percentage points of its volume share to wine and spirits since 2002, the major labels have had to refocus their efforts, Mr. Adamson said.

“It was fine to show a frat party making fun of girls five or eight years ago,” Mr. Adamson said. “But it’s ineffective and potentially damaging to do today.”

On Sunday, Coors Light, the second-best-selling domestic beer, after Bud Light, unveiled a new campaign that it hopes will appeal to women in a way its past advertising has not. The campaign, which is called “Climb On,” features enough shots of climbers atop Rocky Mountain peaks to make sure nobody forgets the particulars of the Coors brand. But sprinkled among images of rugged bull riders and boxers are some of women scaling walls, running races and white-water rafting. The narrator asks, “What would we be without our mountains?” — a tagline intended to evoke a sense of empowerment that the company believes women will respond to more than, say, former pitchmen like the football coach Mike Ditka.

The new campaign arrives after Ipsos, the market research firm, said that women consumed more than 17 billion servings of beer in 2014, or 25 percent of the volume of the category — up from around 20 percent in previous estimates, and equal to the amount of beer that millennial males drank that year.

The number astounded David Kroll, who became chief marketing officer at MillerCoors in July.

“Disappointing,” Mr. Kroll said in an interview, “that we weren’t speaking to women.”

This became painfully obvious last spring, when Bud Light’s “Up for Whatever” campaign was criticized for the tagline “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night,” which some people took as an endorsement of date rape. The company soon apologized and stopped printing the slogan on its labels.

“That was a pivot point,” Mr. Adamson said.

The “Climb On” commercials, produced by the ad agency 72andSunny, which has worked with companies like Target, Google and Samsung, are part of what Mr. Kroll described as a modernizing effort by the Coors Brewing Company. That effort is meant to better align the company with the interests of millennials, who are more sensitive than previous generations to marketing that might be considered sexist or chauvinistic, he said.

“The thought of being fully inclusive to women, when you speak to millennials, they’re like, ‘Yeah, duh,’ ” Mr. Kroll said. “In some respects, beer is just catching up to the millennial mind-set.”

Coors Light is not alone in this effort. Heineken has recently appealed to “moderate drinkers” with a new ad that suggests modern women will be more attracted to men who drink less. The latest commercial, one of three since the campaign began in 2011, features women singing the Bonnie Tyler song “I Need a Hero” as they walk away from ostensibly inebriated men.

Some brands have also introduced new products to attract women in recent years, though results have been mixed. In 2011, for instance, Molson Coors introduced a “bloat resistant” beer called Animée that came in different flavors and colors, while the Carlsberg Group created a gender-neutral beer called Copenhagen with a minimalist aesthetic that resembled a sleek bottle of white wine. Both were short-lived.

Anheuser-Busch, on the other hand, has had some success with its fruit-tasting Bud Light Lime Rita range since 2012. Hard ciders grew 13 percent in 2015, while other flavored malt beverages gained 10 percent, according to Nielsen.

When it comes to gender-neutral advertising, though, the brand consultant Dean Crutchfield says that Coors Light, which has long sought to portray a robust masculinity in its marketing, is taking a considerable risk.

“If you alienate your core, your credibility and relevance tumbles,” Mr. Crutchfield said. “It’s about your brand, your heritage, your past and your future. It’s been all wrapped around the males. To suddenly unwrap that, it does carry risk.”

Britt Dougherty, MillerCoors’s senior director of marketing insights, says that women rarely self-identify as beer drinkers, and that beer companies have not done a good job trying to recruit them. According to Ms. Dougherty’s estimates, a more gender-friendly advertising approach could add from five million to nine million barrels to the industry’s sales in the United States over the next five years.

“It takes time to undo that baggage,” she said. “We’ve represented a version of masculinity that wasn’t appealing to women.”

Also figuring into Coors’s calculus is a Brewers Association estimate that women consumed 30 percent of the craft beer on the market in 2014. And Nielsen says craft beer’s market penetration in off-premise, or in-home, consumption continues to increase, rising half a percentage point from the fourth quarter of 2014 to the fourth quarter of 2015.

Jackie Dodd, who runs the popular cooking and beer blog The Beeroness, said she felt that craft beers, or microbrews, had always been about community and collaboration, including male and female brewers.

“I don’t think craft beer ever marketed towards women, they just valued them and that conveyed,” Ms. Dodd wrote in an email. “I’m not sure macro can do that, or even knows how. But if they can, more power to them.”

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