Letters, Oct. 12, 2009

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Trends, not branding, shape beer market

RE: "Slowly but Surely, Line Extensions Will Take Your Brand Off Course" (AA, Sept. 7). As a historian who has spent over 30 years studying the American brewing industry, I find Al Ries' contention that "line extension" -- the linking of a new beer to an established, traditional brand -- will inevitably cause the decline of that brand to be wrong. Mr. Ries reaches an incorrect conclusion concerning Budweiser and Bud Light because he is marketing- and brand-recognition-oriented as well as being far too time-restricted in his focus. The decline in traditional-style lagers such as Budweiser has little to do with line extension. Rather, it is the continuation of a process that began in the mid 1800s -- the preference of American beer drinkers for less alcoholic, lighter-flavor beers.

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Question the experts live at our 'Hot Topic: The Skinny on the FTC's Endorsements and Testimonials Guidelines' webcast on November 3.

If one looks back to the top fermented beers of the colonial and early republic years, you find they were extremely high in alcohol content. The Germanic-style lagers of the mid to late 1800s became Americans' dominant beverage primarily because they were lighter, smoother and contained less alcohol than the earlier ales, porters and stouts. The hiatus in brewing caused by national prohibition resulted (with the aid of federal and state regulations) in even lower-alcohol-content beers when repeal came in 1933. This continuum of decline in alcohol content was further accentuated by the healthy-living movement of the 1970s when "light" beers began to appear on the market.

In 1979 Miller Lite was the only light beer listed in the Top 10 selling brands. In 1983, of the Top 10 brands, six were traditional "flagship" brands and only two (Miller Lite and Bud Light) were light beers. By 1992, only two flagship brands (Budweiser and Miller High Life) remained in the Top 10 while six light beers were in that listing. It was not line extension that caused the decline of flagship brands as Mr. Ries contends, but the evolving taste preference of the American beer drinker for lighter, lower alcohol beers. Whether a new light beer was named after a flagship brand or not, the result was going to be the same.

William J. Vollmar, Ph.D.
St. Louis

FTC disclosure rules unfair, unenforceable

Can't we just assume, for an instant, that everyone that says something in any form of media has a bias -- paid or not?

I worked as an executive producer for a major broadcast network. I absolutely knew that every producer at the network had a bias. Duh! Why don't we get every reporter to wear a badge listing their political party, then we will know which perspective they are plugging?

Sounds like more of the government protecting idiots from themselves. As someone said before, don't we have more important things to do in this country?

Carl Hartman
Loveland, Colo.

Disclosure is definitely a required step to avoid deceiving consumers -- and one we always have requested from the start with BuzzParadise for our nearly 300-blogger outreach campaign.

But why would bloggers be treated with more severity than traditional media?

Most offline press and TV journalists are offered outrageous gifts and travel invitations year-round, and I never saw any disclosure about it. I am 200% for disclosure, but I really think that FTC and WOMMA should be asking the same from other media to be fair. Consumer trust is as important whether you are a TV audience or a WOM audience.

Emmanuel Vivier
CEO and Founder
Vanksen & BuzzParadise

This all reminds me of when we were crafting the "Can Spam" act. What was the result? Regulations on the U.S. that don't extend globally, so the jobs went overseas. And we still have spam. There is a serious potential for any company that relies on extensive reviews or word-of-mouth to simply deal with offshore media and bloggers to get the job done. Sad.

What bothers me most in the information is the fact that there's not enough clear information on what they consider disclosure. We have worked with guidelines regarding disclosure and persona usage that the U.K. put out years ago for some time now because of our work with clients in that country. For their "legislation," it was a simple directive to put in a profile that you are paid to review/endorse/etc. and then one simple mention like "we received this product last week and played with it ..." This FTC information doesn't define it as easily as that.

I'm OK with an element of disclosure, for sure. I just want it defined for our clients. Additionally, I want the same rules to apply to a blogger as it does to the media, period.

Amanda Vega

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