In a few weeks, women will have the perfect beer to sip while writing diary entries with dainty Bic “For Her” pens and blocking out the ugly noise of an unrefined world with “Pretty in Pink” earplugs. Rather than chugging unisex swill labeled in silver and blue, ladies can luxuriate in the more feminine hues and cutesy labels of High Heel Brewing, a new beer company that will release its first women-targeted products—a cider-ale fusion called Slingback and an American IPA titled Too Hop’d to Handle—in Florida this June.
The flirty puns and on-the-nose shoe imagery are just the tip of High Heel Brewing’s gender-specific marketing strategy, which includes pink and purple packaging (because how else are women supposed to know they can drink it?!) bedecked in ambiguous inspirational quotes that sound like things an amateur yoga instructor might slur after one too many kombucha-tinis: “Savor the now”; “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” High Heel Brewing’s logo is a stylized hop perched atop a heel. The w in brewing is highlighted in pink. For woman.
High Heel master brewer Kristi McGuire, a former Anheuser-Busch staffer, is promoting her new beers as foils to other alcoholic drinks aimed at women, which are often too-sweet, watery approximations of the real deal. McGuire says she wants to draw more women from the comfortably feminine realms of wine and liquor into the world of high-quality craft beer, and Too Hop’d to Handle is no gentle spritzer: It’s 8.4 percent alcohol by volume and more bitter than the average IPA. Still, “you’re going to have women who really do want to have something on the sweet side,” McGuire told the Miami New Times. That’s where Slingback, a light and fruity combo of ale and pear cider, comes in. High Heel Brewing tested its products unlabeled with both men and women, and McGuire claims people of all genders liked what they tasted.
Why, then, saddle a perfectly good beer with reductive, hyperfeminine marketing that will surely turn off most men and a good proportion of women? Gender-targeted ads and labels may bring some new consumers into the fold, but that tack is quickly losing relevance. Big-name beer brands are currently abandoning their old frat-bro marketing narratives, those age-old misogynist campaigns that made the creation of High Heel and its ilk seem like a good idea. Around the Super Bowl this year, Coors Light and Bud Light, they of twin-fetish commercial and the date-rape tagline, both made ploys to appeal to women, the latter with pop-feminist darling Amy Schumer at the wheel.
The old beer ad campaigns that relied on winking references to sexual assault and boobies likely robbed beer conglomerates of millions of potential sales dollars. From Fortune:
It seems silly to alienate such a large audience of potential customers. After all, women already consume about 33% of craft beer by volume, according to the Craft Brewers Society. And making beer more “gender friendly” could add about 5 million barrels to the industry’s annual U.S. sales (currently about 206 million barrels) over the next five years, according to Bloomberg.
High Heel Brewing is using a tried-and-true tactic—creating a women-specific version of an otherwise gender-neutral product—that has worked for loads of other goods. In this unjust consumer marketplace, making any old product pink can justify a hefty markup. Steakhouses, spaces that have served as de facto man caves for nearly as long as brewpubs, have used stiletto imagery, low-cal menus, and fuschia fonts to mixed results over the past several years. And there’s at least one wildly successful case study for the women-specific alcohol brand: Skinnygirl, a line of pre-made cocktails that preys on women’s body insecurities with a logo that looks like the silhouette of Jack Skellington. “Drink like a lady” and “being good never tasted so good” are Skinnygirl’s favored ad lines, positioning the consumption of caloric beverages as a transgression of gender norms and traditional morals alike.
At least High Heel hasn’t yet stooped to body-shaming tactics to sell its brews. But if McGuire and her crew want to capture female consumers sick of the sexist marketing schemes of beer brands past, they should know this: The opposite of a pair of glistening breasts in a beer ad is not a pink-and-purple image of a ladies’ shoe. The bikinis and “no homo” jokes of yesteryear are the just-as-narrow, if slightly less offensive, slingbacks of today.