Pure B.S. or Great Copy?

June 30th, 2008 by Bob Bly

Critics often accuse direct marketing copywriters of hype and puffery, but I think the real B.S. artists in marketing today are wine and beer writers.

Listen to this description of Route Des Epices beer from the Beer of the Month Club newsletter (vol. 14, no. 12):

“On the nose, you can’t miss the influence of black and green peppercorns. Behind the peppercorn is a mild citrusy character with a caramel backbone, a touch of spruce and almonds, and some floral hop tones. Look for an emergence of tequila-like notes amidst a subtle floral character, notes of coriander, subtle apricot tones, and a woody spruce-like component.”

In the same issue, another beer, Rosee D’Hibiscus,” is said to have “notes of under ripened peaches, coriander, and pomegranate.”

Talk about piling it on high and deep. I drank a bottle of each, and they both tasted like beer.

Why do people rabidly attack direct marketing as hype-filled and sleazy, but ooh and ah and nod their heads in wonder at the writer’s sophistication when they read B.S. like the above beer reviews?

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11 responses about “Pure B.S. or Great Copy?”

  1. DUST!N said:

    Maybe it is because most ads (especially those by beer companies) are expected to contain at least a modicum of entertainment. Actually, I think they’re expected to be branded entertainment, not entertaining ads.

    Conversely (or is it inversely… I get those mixed up), direct mail is hardly ever viewed as entertainment. It is perceived as more purely an advertisement.

    Bottom line: We expect B.S. in entertainment (willful suspension of disbelief). We expect truth in advertising.

  2. Dustin said:

    (Not the same Dustin as above! Who knew there were two of us?)

    Obviously the beer people are trying to position themselves as “upscale” by writing “reviews” that mimic Wine Spectator reviews. How am I going to get people to pay more for Beer X — I have to differentiate it somehow from Beers Y and Z, right?

    I agree with the Other Dustin that these kinds of catalog are probably seen as a kind of entertainment — something to sit down and read through, which means there’s probably a little more patience, since we expect stories and elaborations in our entertainments. But, too, the target audience is desperately seeking sophistication, or they’d buy their beer at the supermarket or bodega. Seems like this catalog is creating a fantasy that the reader can sink into, in which they’re sophisticated — even though they drink beer.

    And that’s the thing, isn’t it? Beer has an image problem if it wants to capture $12 a bottle (or whatever BOMC charges) because it’s seen as relentlessly working class stuff. WIne became popular in the US by positioning itself directly against working class beer in the ’80s and ’90s, targeting the Yuppie crowd’s desire to differentiate themselves from the masses. How, then, does beer do the same thing? It can’t very well oppose itself to beer, right?

  3. Bob Bly said:

    I got the Beer of the Month Club as a gift, and I have also given it as a gift. The beers are great but as you point out, Dustin, a lot of money per bottle. I think the newsletter adds value to the membership and even the beer itself by education members on what they are tasting. Unfortunately for me, it is mostly science fiction, as I can’t taste ANY of those complex flavor combinations they describe. I wonder if anyone reading this blog can discern plums, peaches, oak, chocolate, coriander in the like in either wine OR beer?

  4. Jon Weston said:

    I’d like to see someone do a take off of Gary Vaynerchuk but with beer. This someone should carry a 24/7 unshaven look, wear a tradesman’s outfit and speak like he’d been living in a trailer park his whole life.

    He’d say something like,

    “WOWWW!! This stuff totally tastes like, uhhh, beer! Lets give it a swilly swilly and and a drinky winky shall we?”

    No spitting into a pale though, they just skoll down the whole beer and get trashed on camera.

    Hmm… sounds like fun!

  5. Angie said:

    Okay, so I agree that the writing is over the top. And if I were to try those beers I probably wouldn’t be able to taste all those um “notes”. But coming from Portland (where we have more breweries than any other city, yes even Germany, believe it or not), I’m not at all surprised by this. Not all beers taste like the crap Budweiser, Miller and other beers that have national ad campaigns put out. I guess that makes me a bit of a beer snob. :)

  6. Ken said:

    It seems to me that many people who become involved in the wine and beer culture develop that air of “perceived sophistication” that supposedly sets them apart from the rest of us mere mortals.
    Would those descriptions actually serve to sell more beer, or is the writer simply serving his ego with such a detailed account?
    I imagine those late night infomercials (Kevin Trudeau, Don Lapre) do a lot to distort the public image of direct marketers. People generally see them as smooth talking snake oil salesmen…and often times the copy of a direct mail package is quite similar to that of the late night infomercial.

  7. Apryl Parcher said:

    This one caught my eye, Bob, because I once had a job with duPont as a sensory panelist for their soy products–and as a panel, our taste buds had to be “trained” to differentiate all the flavors in soy isolate samples. YERGH. It took 6 months just to train us, and we had to not only come up with a lexicon of “flavors” that each sample contained, (it could be bitter, sweet, astringent, peppery, nutty, fruity–or have more complex flavors, such as a hint of wet wool) but we also had to quantify those results on a scale of 1 to 10 (and match each other to a degree that would be statistically measurable). Thank GOD for the chocolate treats afterwards!

    I guess you could have called us “Sommeliers of Soy,” so the same could be said for beer experts–all it takes is training–but as a copywriter I wouldn’t use spit-cup terminology to describe that particular product, mainly because it doesn’t mean much to the market.

    The majority of the beer market isn’t into “plummy” or “floral” tones, even if discerning taste buds can find them hidden in the hops somewhere…so I think you’re right–they’re missing the boat, and looking silly in the process.

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