This is how breweries, distilleries and wineries should celebrate International Women’s Day

Recent headlines in the drinks trade show that gender equality means far more to consumers than a few discounted beers. We asked an expert how alcohol companies should be celebrating International Women’s Day.

Earlier this week craft brewer-turned beer giant BrewDog launched a limited edition “Pink IPA” — a pink bottle of Punk IPA calling itself “beer for girls” — to promote gender equality.

The launch was intended to be ironic. The press release repeatedly stated that the branding was “satirical” and a “send-up” of lazy marketing towards women. The brewer gave women a 20% discount on pints at their local bar, and even pledged to donate 20% of Pink and Punk IPA sales to charities supporting women in work, but on the whole, BrewDog’s fans didn’t see the funny side.

Last month, whisky brand Johnnie Walker also mistakenly fell foul of feminism when it launched a limited edition Jane Walker Black Label bottle, turning its striding man logo into a woman. Consumers were quick to hit back at the comments made by Diageo vice president Stephanie Jacoby, who claimed that “Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating to women. … [Jane Walker] is a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”

“What do I know about scotch? Very little, alas. As I am sure you know, women only consume wine spritzers and vodka-based drinks, like Cosmopolitans,” Maura Judkis wrote in the Washington Post.

“How could I, a Lady, sample this strong, masculine potion? What would it do to me? If a man found out I drank scotch, how could he ever want to marry me?” You get the idea.

Both the whisky and beer brands made pledges to support women with their stunts — Diageo said it will donate a dollar from every bottle produced to organisations that promote women, including Monumental Women and She Should Run, which inspires women to run for office — but both received a backlash.

“I think some of the recent drinks brand releases probably had the right intentions but my advice would be to tread carefully,” Karen Jones, managing director of premium drinks marketing consultancy Occupi Digital, told db. “Especially when the subject matter is so naturally emotive such as International Women’s Day.”

“Women have fought to break the glass ceiling and I think some marketing efforts could come across as belittling that fight.”

Jones has worked with a wide range of drinks firms for more than a decade, including Diageo, Midleton Distillers, Barcardi Group, Courvoisier and Laphroaig whisky, and argues that drinks marketers need to think hard about how their product’s demographic if they want to support International Women’s Day without missing the mark.

“If a brand is going to truly stand for something, it needs to be evident in everything they do versus just jumping on the bandwagon for a key date. For example, if your brand actively and openly promotes diversity then it makes sense to make a big deal on a key diversity day.

“However, if you don’t, then it will more often than not be seen as just trying to make money from something irrelevant to you and result in negative press.”

“That’s not to say you can’t do releases in line with key events well. In my opinion, Skittles did a great job during Pride month, same with Ben & Jerry’s. Both brands, however, have been vocal about their support for equality and so any marketing they do around these events has legitimacy.”

Interestingly, both Diageo and BrewDog have good reputations when it comes to female employees. In the fallout over the Pink IPA launch, the brewery told reporters it has a wage difference of 2.8% in favour of men — a figure which is far better than the national average of 18%, but not quite as impressive as some members of the drinks trade.

In Fact, the median pay gap at Diageo is actually almost 10% in favour of women, according to figures the firm released last year, while at Majestic Wines, both mean and median average wages are around 5% higher for women.

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