A few weeks back, a reader tweeted to me, stating that when they went to check out my San Diego Beer News articles on the local craft beer scene, the webpage background displayed an ad for Shock Top. For those not aware, Shock Top is what those in the craft beer industry refer to as a “crafty” brand; a subsidiary of sorts created by one of the industrial beer giants to look like a craft brewing company so it can win back market share from beer consumers who are steadily craving more and more wholesome and traditional beer over the adjunct lagers that were, for so long, the only choice when it came to American-made beer. Other crafty brands include Blue Moon and Third Shift, and most craft beer fans have no trouble discerning them from the genuine article.
The reader/tweeter found the juxtaposition of craft content and a macro ad ironic. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Earlier this year, the Reader held a beer and live music event that was primarily about showcasing local craft breweries, but the major sponsor was, once again, Shock Top. The brand’s logo showed up in the official event logo, so when I posted about the event on The Reader’s website and my social media channels, Shock Top was what most craft-centric readers saw and associated with the event. It’s also what they commented on. That commentary was mostly made up of potshots — craft beer fans have little to no love or use for macro beer. I understand this and I exclusively drink craft, however, I would like to provide some food for thought for my craft beer compatriots.
Were the Reader to rely solely on craft beer companies, many of which don’t even operate in the black much less have funds for advertising, to pay for the space their content appears in or foot the bill for events where their beers are featured, this would likely mean the end of said content and events. I, for one, would much rather see those breweries funneling their available money into producing great beer, expanding their operations, opening additional venues, and doing things that have something to do with beer that I will someday get to drink.
As a craft beer fan, I get a kick out of the fact that "big beer" is paying for my coverage of small craft breweries. Ironic, yes. Awesome…well, yeah, kinda. They have marketing budgets, so why not? The really great part—for me and craft beer fans—is that The Reader allows me to write about craft beer so regularly and free of restrictions when it has such a consistent and supportive advertiser selling a competing line of products. This, in a day and age when, though the majority of media consumers fail to notice, most publications’ content is flimsily veiled advertorial included as a return-on-investment for companies who advertise within said periodicals.
Think back to the last glitzy craft beer issue you read from a magazine that otherwise barely, or never, touches on the subject. How many ads for craft brewing companies did you see? Were those companies then mentioned in articles? Probably. Heck, even some respected and popular publications that are all about craft beer have devolved into you-scratch-my-back-we’ll-scratch-yours operations, printing fluff pieces rather than beating the pavement for non-compensated news and stories about important developments. One look at the San Diego Beer News page of the Reader’s site, or my daily articles on the local scene, proves there is enough going on to fill dozens of pages’ in any local magazine. But most of that has to do with upcoming companies with no money for ads, so it’s no wonder ad-focused periodicals don’t pursue or feature them. What’s in it for them?
And beware the words “exclusive media partner.” This almost always means a company is in bed with a publication, providing advertising dollars or even broadly applied funding to a media outlet in exchange for said outlet telling their story for them in the best light and helping to drive business their way, often at the expense of other businesses just as deserving as theirs or, in the case of direct-competes, maybe even more deserving. It’s an effective way to slant an otherwise-level playing field.
Throughout my career covering the local craft beer scene, I have been very fortunate. I came up in a time when craft beer was just starting to poke its dorsal fin above the surface. Big beer wasn’t nearly as crafty and most publishers and editors of mainstream, non-beer-centric publications knew little or nothing about craft. That made it a tough sell to get ink for the topic at first, but only because of craft beer’s obscurity. Once I was able to win page space and editors saw readers responding so positively to news about craft beer, it became increasingly easier to to get stories accepted. But it wasn’t long before it got tough again as big beer companies started signing big-money advertising contracts with publications, making editors nervous about including stories about their biggest competition, craft breweries.
Eventually, craft became too big to ignore and, thus, something nearly every San Diego publication now covers. Craft breweries remain the darlings of San Diego media, but pay attention to the ones you hear the most about. It’s usually the larger ones. Not to be labeled a pessimist or cynic, there are reasons for this that go beyond the larger companies having more money for funding advertorial. The bigger craft companies generally have more noteworthy occurrences and events going on and, therefore, legitimately merit more coverage. I could spend all my time writing about developments at Stone Brewing Co. (except I generally steer clear of that since I work there, so it’s best to leave that to others), Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, Karl Strauss Brewing Company, Green Flash Brewing Co., and Pizza Port. In fact, this is what the majority of my contemporaries do, and it would certainly make my job a lot easier.
So why don’t I? For one, there isn’t and never has been a structure where I received compensation from any of them, and there is more to San Diego’s lush, prosperous craft beer landscape than the low-hanging (albeit delicious) fruit of the big craft breweries. From business-suite start-up types with one-barrel setups, to brewers toiling in relative obscurity on the geographic fringe of the county, to seemingly standard operations that are anything but — any one of San Diego’s numerous craft brewing companies could be the next big thing. Every brewery should be treated as such, and given a solid and thorough examination. I owe it to these businesses and you, dear reader, to go the extra mile independent of business decisions. This is how the Reader allows me to operate, in a thorough and even critical way (we all know how I feel about non-critical “beer journalists”). In some small way, macrobeer advertising makes that possible, which makes a little irony a lot easier to take.