Yard beer, cheap domestics that we’re all very familiar with, is a staple in the American male drinking process. One of the primary reasons is obvious – it’s cheap. It does its job quite well. But cost is only one element in the decision process for beer shopping. Indeed, there is little about it that involves shopping – thinking through the multitude of choices, weighing quality and experimentation are of minimal concern. But, buying yard beer isn’t as simple as it seems. The decision process begins at home, well before the buyer enters the liquor store, grocery or bodega. Context is the driver and reciprocity, the shared experience, directs the decision.
Inexpensive beer is extremely adaptable because people can define it according to what the buyer needs or wants. The beer is imbued with social mechanisms, engaging the honor and sense of fraternity of both giver and receiver. The giver does not merely give a beer but also part of himself. The act of giving creates a social bond and it is expected that the exchange will someday be returned. It often becomes the central element of creating solidarity amongst men. And that also means exchange becomes a means by which men express and create a sense of masculinity.
Beer advertising frequently relies on images of powerful men (defined in Anglo imagery by possession of women), or men as adolescents. For men with less access to more abstract forms of masculinity-validating power or those wishing to reconnect with more traditional expressions of it, beer becomes an extension of being a man. Beer choice often has less to do with ethnicity or regionalism than it does with the need to create a male-male bond that is easily defined, displayed and acted out. Beer is an agent for establishing social and cultural norms. Bud Light is great for the game, Duvel probably is not.
So what? Well, it matters because this sort of understanding doesn’t come from traditional segmentation. Indeed, it often flies in the face of traditional marketing practices. What it provides the manufacturer and/or seller of any product, be it beer or jeans, a way of thinking about marketing that is more subtle and more inclined to build brand loyalty. Rather than focusing on the obvious, it speaks to deeper needs. And if you can identify those, you can create rituals, traditions and iconic status. You gain life-long brand advocates that carry your torch across generations.