Friday, May 21, 2010

One of the Guys: How Beer Advertisements Sell Masculinity

Food and drink products in and of themselves have no relation to gender, and if you had never seen an ad for beer, you might assume it would be marketed based on its taste or other factors intrinsic to the beer. However, anyone who has seen an advertisement for beer knows that this is not the case; beer ads focus on any number of things other than beer. Depicting parties in a commercial for alcohol could make sense, but frequently the subjects of beer ads are completely unrelated; sports, women, and vacations all make frequent appearances. Also, in almost every case these ads are clearly geared toward men.  When beer makers advertise, they are selling a distinct masculine identity; for the price of a six pack—argue the ads—you can be one of the men, whether this means partaking in male bonding, enjoying overwhelming female attention, or simply be a part of a long lasting tradition of masculinity which spurns anything girly.

     The masculinity associated with beer ads is frequently characterized only by its complete refusal of feminine concepts. This actually defines the masculinity shown in terms of femininity, but forges in the minds of consumers a distinct identity for male costumers.  Declaring that men have better taste in drink than females do is a technique that originated at the very beginning of men’s marketing with Esquire magazine. Breazeale quotes an early twentieth century article which states, women say they like men’s parties better—you get better drinks,” and, “women tend to prefer fluffy, multi-colored abominations”. (Breazeale 233) This espouses the idea that women have bad taste—especially where alcohol is concerned—and draws on the stereotype of women being frail to imply that women need to drink weak, heavily flavored drinks. By contrast, it identifies men as strong and in possession of a discerning taste, able to buy and appreciate finer alcohol. This reinforces the sense of a male consumer identity, and is shown today in ads such as the Michelob Ultra advertisement in which the words “Lose the carbs, not the taste” are shown over a background of a strong, muscular man working out.

      Once the male audience is targeted and isolated beer can be sold on the basis that it appeals to the well defined masculine identity, whether or not the ad is actually about the beer. Connecting a beer with other desirable things can push the idea that buying the beer is also buying those things. Jhally describes advertising using perceived wants of the targeted audience as, “promoting images of what the audience conceives of as ‘The Good Life’; beer can be connected with anything from eroticism to male fraternity to the purity of the old west.” (Jhally 251) Tying beer so strongly to masculinity can confuse the consumer base into believing that buying a beer will make them manlier, or help them bond with their fellow men, or even make them more attractive to the opposite sex. These techniques are seen today in virtually all beer ads. However, when the vast majority of an advertisement is taken up by a half naked woman, with a tiny beer bottle or logo shoved into the corner, it is always prudent to wonder: What, exactly, is this ad selling?

Works Cited:
Breazeale, Kenon. "In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Sage Publications, 2003. 

Jhally, Sut. "Image Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Sage Publications, 2003.

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