Of Illusionists and Hostage-Takers

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Remember when beer was just beer? (No? OK, maybe you’re not old enough.)

Jesse Frederik of De Groene Amsterdammer does, though, although from the mini-vignette of him that we see at the top of the column to which the above tweet links he doesn’t seem to be that old himself.

Beer was not always a branded article. From surveys among retailers just after the Second World War [remember, this is written within a Dutch context], it was apparent that only ten percent of customers ever asked for a specific brand. Beer was beer, and nothing more!

Ah, but things eventually changed. “Brand consciousness arrived only when brewers realized that marketing, the selling of illusions, could show consumers differences where there weren’t any.” Beer from Heineken – the company which turned out to be most successful at this new game by far – became perceived as the social tipple, Amstel (a brand later purchased by Heineken) as the “people’s beer,” Hertog Jan as “chic.” Physically, though, they had only minor differences if any.

So what did we get? Lots more marketing expenses among brewers, and of course an explosion in Dutch beer consumption over the years – from ten liters per year in 1950 to 86 in 1980. “The glass of beer, once a brand-less product, comparable to sugar, became a great vehicle for solving all your problems.”

Except that we know it only sometimes seems to solve our problems, and then only for limited times, before the hangover sets in. (more…)

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