Beam Suntory has been heavily criticised for creating a ‘sexist’ and ‘isolating’ whisky fan club.
I’m not an active feminist. I get more worked up over the correct pronunciation of ‘Bourbon’ (it’s not a bloody biscuit!) than I do women’s rights, not that I’m not in favour of them of course. It’s just that I actively choose to focus my frustrations elsewhere.
However two instances of thoughtless marketing in the past couple of weeks have lit a feminist fire inside of me strong enough to burn a bra or two (okay I probably wouldn’t go that far, they’re way too expensive).
I’d dismiss the first as a throwaway comment if it weren’t for the fact it was widely distributed in a press release to communicate the launch of a new product:
‘Ballantine’s Hard Fired is a modern, masculine expression that responds to current trends in the whisky market…’
What does a ‘masculine expression’ mean exactly? And surely if it’s modern and responding to current trends it shouldn’t be masculine as everyone knows more women than ever are enjoying whisky?
I had the opportunity to ask Peter Moore, global brand director for Ballantine’s, precisely what he meant by the comment.
‘We saw that [Ballantine’s Hard Fired] reached into a male interest in fire and smoke and craft, which made it a little bit more masculine,’ he told me. ‘What man doesn’t love going out there and letting off fireworks and having bonfires and things?’
Personally I love the seduction of a roaring fire, the scent of burning wood and the glowing warmth that threatens to blister your skin. How is that experience masculine? Are fireworks a pastime only men are privy to now? In fact it should be men who are more pissed off at Moore’s dated generalisation of themselves as primordial pyromaniacs.
‘We do not want to suggest in anyway this won’t be enjoyed by women, he added. ‘The French have this wonderful thing of calling things male or female, well this has a much more masculine character than a lot of other Ballantine’s which tend to be unisex.’
Unisex whisky? Never heard of it but there he has hit the nail on the head. Flavour is subjective. There is no such thing as a female palate or a male palate, only an experienced and inexperienced one. Marketing to a certain sex on flavour preference alone is generalist and insulting.
No women allowed: by adhering to outdated stereotypes companies are inadvertently alienating the female sex.
I said there were two instances of thoughtless marketing, and the second bout came in the form this week of a more upsetting, apparently exclusive whisky fan club.
Beam Suntory Germany needed a new name for its Signature Malts fan club to integrate the portfolios of both companies following Suntory’s acquisition of Beam. Unfortunately the group chose to name their club ‘Men of Malts’, an insensitive moniker that seemed to exclude the membership of women.
I say 'apparently exclusive', because Beam Suntory Germany later claimed the term ‘men’ had been used to mean ‘humanity rather than the male sex’. While there was no strict rule listing the ownership of a phallus as a condition of entry, females coming across this group would almost certainly have been discouraged from joining up.
The name is now being changed, thanks to the eagle eye of a female blogger and a few words from Scotchwhisky.com, but whisky companies need to be more careful not to deter women.
If we want to encourage more women to discover whisky we need to move away from dated stereotypes and quit attaching these archaic and sexist sentiments to it.
For a category that’s desperately trying to attract a growing demographic of whisky-drinking women through concocting light and sweet innovations, taking the time to consider whether its marketing initiatives are in fact a deterrent to the very consumer they’re hoping to entice would do no harm.
Otherwise we may as well hang a big sign around bottle necks saying ‘Hands off ladies, this is a real man’s drink’, while offering a slap on the bum and leery smirk free with every purchase.
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Latest news 27 November 2015
Beam alters its fan club name, admitting its definition of the word ‘men’ was not clear to everyone.
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Introducing Ballantine’s Hard Fired, a smoky, ‘masculine’ Scotch finished in extra-charred casks.
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