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Would the gender-confused enjoy a plantinum pint?

Spending a little time with the marketing crowd

The current campaign for Platinum Mastercard has caught people's attention for a variety of reasons. I caught it first in "New Yorker," and loved one particular ad: a two-page spread dominated by an evocatively soft-focus black and white photograph. It showed two stylishly casual women in what appeared to be a warm encounter.

They were in a conversational huddle, smilingly sharing a couple of beers, and snacks that looked like oysters on the half-shell. The two, one a little older than the other, were sitting at a table, in a booth panelled with dark wood, in a pub. Both beers were dark, possibly stout, though their head and lace was a trifle slender for that style. They looked like half-pints to me, though the wording was colloquially more expansive.


ThisA daughter was buying a beer for her mother. They were raising a nostalgic glass in the pub where the mother had, years ago, met the father.


The copy, set in a headline font, ran to only 30 or 40 words, yet had the emotive power of a sequence in a movie or play. ThisA daughter was buying a beer for her mother. They were raising a nostalgic glass in the pub where the mother had, years ago, met the father. This

The beers cost $8, and had been preceded by a train ride running to $63, after a $1,200 plane journey. The encounter had been enjoyable but also had a more profound benefit: "Finally understanding where you mother was coming from." The price-tag on that? "Priceless," proposed the copy.

Who placed the ad? The baseline explained: "There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Platinum MasterCard."

I had always assumed MasterCard to be a hard-faced monolith. I shall think again if someone there, can sanction such illumination of the real world. I have spent many a long and less effective hour explaining to assorted dimwits that perfectly respectable people, sometimes even "upscale" (whatever that means), often of the female persuasion, occasionally mothers rather than "party girls" (whatever that means) can enjoy a beer, even a "dark " one, and that a decent brew brings people together more often than it wrecks their lives. I never imagined that Platinum MasterCard could do that for me. Maybe I should trade in the old gold.

I don't mean to make a mountain out of a MasterCard, but I did also like the notion of a stout party. Not only has every woman whom I have dated more than once (in 40-odd years of this pursuit) enjoyed beer, most have them have especially favoured stout. Despite this, further assortments of dimwits are forever trying to design blander, sweeter, beers for the female market. Do women have some physiological defect that prevents their enjoying drinks or foods with flavor? I don't believe so. I suppose the poor dears should regard themselves as fortunate occasionally to be offered these bland specialities. Much of the time, the brewing industry seems content to ignore half the population.

It occurred to me that this question might arise the other day when I enjoyed one of my odder assignments with the world of blue-chip international corporations. The company with which I interfaced (is that the correct term?) was not in the brewing industry.

Its immediate concerns seemed far from mine: it was reorganising its management to emphasise teamwork. To introduce this change, a hundred of its executives from around the world had been summoned to a week of meetings in London. At one of these get-togethers, they would be required, without warning, to form ten teams, each comprising people who had not met before. Each team would then be given an afternoon to create a product, with a brand-name and package, plan a budget, propose a marketing strategy, and perform and videotape a commercial. The product? Something familiar to everyone: a beer.

My job was threefold. First, I would brief them on the possible style and flavours of beer and on the market. Then I would spend time with each team answering questions as they worked. Finally, I would be a judge.

I was to be introduced to this international group as the world's leading writer on beer, but would any of them have ever heard of me? As it turned out, only one person instantly expressed recognition: a young woman, from New Jersey.

Hers was one of the teams that pondered a beer aimed at the female market. I would prefer brewers to address all their beers equally to women, rather than adopting a Virginia Slims approach. Nonetheless, I did like some of the names suggested: Cleopatra,

Evita, Godiva (a Belgian chocolate beer, I wonder?), La Bière, Mercedes (it was a girl's name before it was a car), Portia (sounds like a German car, too) Ruby, Sapphire (gin-flavored?).

The panels were provided quantities of standard lagers, wheat beers, ales and stouts, which they could blend and/or spike with cherry-brandy, chilis, caffeine, hop oil or food coloring. They were also given a variety of bottles, but had to make their own labels, using colored felt-pen. An imagined ice-beer with peppery flavourings had a neat name: Spice Ice. Remember how we all joked in the early days of dry beers and ice beers? Weren't we awaiting a beer called Dry Ice? I think Spice Ice is hotter.


One had the slogan: "Our beer don't need no Michael Jackson - it's a Thriller in a bottle."


The time available was budgeted so that each time had ten minutes to tape a commercial. All devised jingles based on popular tunes. One had the slogan: "Our beer don't need no Michael Jackson - it's a Thriller in a bottle."

One commercial opened with a group of executives in a meeting. They were all asleep, and clearly unfit for the day's challenges. Then, instead of morning coffee, they were given a powerfully restorative beer called Boomerang, at which point they leapt into dynamism. ("Try that thang! Drink a Boomerang!!" urged the southern-accented jingle). This was aimed at young executives who party all night. In most developed nations, health claims are banned by legislation, but this was a theoretical exercise.

The most outlandish proposals were also the most original. Another beer for heavy socialisers was called Red Eye, and slated to be advertised only on late-night chat-shows.

I liked a beer called Renew with the properties of a Viagra. ("Renew: keeps you up all night"). This would be sold through drugstores: another proposal upon which reality might intrude. Still, the label device was clever: a unicorn.

As they made their commercials, participant had access to a props room full of clothes, false noses and other disguises, cosmetics, etcetera. One commercial featured high-voiced consumers who suddenly turned to the camera to reveal that they were men in wigs and lipstick. The selling line was: "Beer Worth Getting Dressed Up For."

"Is this beer aimed at the cross-dressing market?" I asked. "Yes, but also gays of both sexes, ultra-dynamic career women and The New Man," responded the team-leader. "So how do you encapsulate that group?" I pressed him.

"Oh, this is a beer especially for the gender-confused."


Published Online: AUG 5, 1999
Published in Print: APR 1, 1999
In: Ale Street News

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