The prevailing wisdom in mainstream beer advertising over the past decade is that putting half-naked women on television to writhe, wriggle, and mud-wrestle each other for the gratification of America’s volume-drinking bros is a smidge out of step with modern social norms. To the post-boomer gaze, this is boorish stuff, and kinda creepy to boot — especially when you consider that such zesty ‘n chesty ads required the approval of not one but several layers of older white male macrobrewing management before hitting the airwaves. Gross!
But as the light lager lechers of yesteryear’s marketing departments shuffled off this mortal coil, times have changed, and the beer industry’s sex-sells approach has gotten a lot less horny on main. Which is why your humble Hop Take columnist watched Monster Beverage Corporation’s new spot for The Beast Unleashed with such fascination when it hit Vichy Twitter a couple weeks ago:
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— The Beast Unleashed (@BeastUnleashed) September 27, 2023
Uh huh. The ad seems pulled from another, more openly misogynistic era. Monster endorser and NASCAR driver Riley Herbst pulls his No. 36 car into a gas station parking lot at the beckoning of a jiggling model in Daisy Dukes holding a cardboard sign that says “Car Wash.” You can probably see where this is going. Herbst heads into the mini-mart to grab some Beast Unleashed White Haze while a bevy of buxom babes hose down his car and themselves. Dirty Penny’s hair-metal procedural “Hot & Heavy” blares. The point — to the extent that there is a point — is revealed at the end, when Herbst emerges to find his car wrapped in a new, White Haze-specific decal scheme.
This is lowest-common-denominator junk. You can find plenty more of the same piece across The Beast Unleashed’s social media profiles. (Monster did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this column.) It’s semi-remarkable in this is a high-profile beverage-alcohol brand from a legacy-ish firm leaning gleefully into the industry’s outdated “cans and cans, DO YOU GET IT?!?” aesthetic tradition, but the tradition itself is juvenile, alienating, and above all in 2023, stale as hell. I’m loath to highlight it.
This week’s column probably would have gone in an entirely different direction, in fact, but for a newly emergent, and frankly baffling, piece of information about Monster’s plans for The Beast Unleashed.
In a research note from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) annual conference in Atlanta earlier this month, Goldman Sachs’ venerable equity analyst for the beverage industry, Bonnie Herzog, relayed that the FMB is “attempting to carve out a unique space in the beverage/hard seltzer market,” and aims to increase its current 28-state footprint to the full 50 by the end of 2023. (Brewbound first reported on the note.) The Beast Unleash’s attempts are going swimmingly so far: Herzog reports that Monster’s “alcohol sales were up a robust ~88% in Q2.” With a new hard tea product — Nasty Beast Hardcore Tea — headed for beer aisles later this year, and the brand already teasing a hard lemonade to follow, the banker liked what she saw coming down the pike, too.
“MNST is all-in on alcohol and thinks it could be big for them by 2025,” wrote Herzog, adding that the brand’s NACS booth was the event’s “most impressive” and “attracted ~2x the foot traffic as Red Bull’s.” (The firm’s main competitor is also the United States’ energy-drink category leader; it has no alcoholic crossover product.)
That’s all well and good. Here’s the baffling part. “According to company reps [Goldman Sachs’ NACS envoy] met with, recent alcohol innovation has skewed towards MNST’s non-core consumer (i.e., females), suggesting alcohol sales could be helping to grow the MNST consumer base.” Did you catch that? Id est females. The Monster reps Herzog & co. met with, which included chief customer officer Mike Trento and senior vice-president of innovation Geoff Bremmer, said its hard drinks pipeline has lately been oriented to the demands of female drinkers.
Uh huh. It’s true that Monster has struggled to figure out ways to repackage its alpha-male, flat brims-and-lift kits brand to woo women, who tend to drink energy drinks less frequently than men. So Beast Unleashed’s upcoming portfolio additions comport with what the company told Herzog. (Herzog herself did not respond to a request for comment.) Hard tea and hard lemonade, for better or worse, have long been coded feminine in the mainstream American drinking public’s collective imagination, even though male drinkers tend to lead actual consumption in the segments. At the very least, it seems plausible that Nasty Beast et al. will furnish more consumer entry points to The Beast Unleashed. It’s reasonable for Monster’s execs to hope that those drinkers will bring more gender diversity to the flagship brand’s customer base.
What’s not reasonable, from where I’m sitting, is to expect product innovation alone to get the ladies flocking to The Beast Unleashed. Marketing matters! Monster knows that better than most: The company is a case study in the power of sponsorship and lifestyle marketing. The beer aisle is more crowded than ever, and brands sustaining success there have a strong, cohesive message about who they are and what they offer (not just to customers, but to retailers and distributors, too.) Monster and The Beast Unleashed are similar brands, but the latter can’t simply draft off the former’s brand power forever. It’ll have to carve out a lane of its own, and it’ll have to do it through marketing.
Thus, the conundrum. To maintain its spectacular corporate growth, Monster needs to attract female drinkers. Its alcohol portfolio in general, and the upcoming hard tea and lemonade additions to the The Beast Unleashed family in particular, could be powerful tools to do so. But to market its FMBs — which, again, offer it a real shot at women — the firm is deploying crude, lumpen media that objectifies women. Chicks in thongs getting soapy for the benefit of a male athlete may move cases with the country’s Kyles, but it may turn off its Kylies in the process. Then what?
I won’t bother litigating the ethics of Monster’s backslide into the beer industry’s bad advertising habits of yore; it’s a mildly sexist commercial, and we ought not waste time arriving at that obvious conclusion. (I’m sure there are female viewers out there who took no offense to The Beast Unleashed’s car-wash spot, or even thought it was “fire,” or whatever. Taste is a matter of taste.) But given its parent brand’s dude-dominated past — not to mention the grief Bud Light has received this year from both conservatives intent on waging a gender-essentialist war and progressives appalled by its Sister Souljah treatment of trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney — The Beast Unleashed is setting up to be a bit of a beverage-alcohol marketing bellwether.
Will American women really buy brands that portray them as fawning eye candy in ads? Is the beer industry’s course correction away from retrograde stereotypes over? Is the prevailing wisdom wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time. Assuming Monster keeps unleashing (ahem) this sophomoric schlock on social media, we should have answers soon enough.
🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now
Just in time/possibly too late for Halloween 2023 (depending on shipping times, I guess), New Belgium Brewing has released the Voodoo Ranger hat. An actual hat, based on the one that the money-printing brand family’s familiar bonesman wears on its ubiquitous cans. Sure, whatever, the beer industry loves a seasonal gimmick, and so do I. But it sure says something about stratification in today’s craft brewing segment that most of the country’s ~10,000 breweries are struggling to eke out growth in a tough market while the one that cracked the convenience-store code on large-format, high-ABV juice-bombs is able to sell faux-Westerns with safari flaps for $65 apiece. And that something ain’t good for breweries not named New Belgium.
Non-alcoholic beer has averaged 30-plus percent growth for each of the past four years, yeesh… Convenience stores remain a bright spot for the struggling craft segment; dollars sales are up 7.5 percent year-to-date there… Kinda feels like beer should benefit from a “vibe shift in the luxury business,” right?… Anchor Brewing Co.’s building is officially on the market, meaning at least former workers should be out of liquidation limbo soon…
📉 …and downs
After 16 years in Seattle, Two Beers Brewing Co. is closing… The Consumer Price Index for beer outpaced both that of spirits and general inflation in September… The climate crisis threatens European hops big-time, per a new study in the journal Nature (though Stan Hieronymous says don’t totally freak just yet)… Yet another Coca-Cola crossover goes spirits-based (this time Sprite x Absolut vodka), not malt-/cane-based…