Monday, November 17, 2014

Beer belongs

You might have noticed some of the chuntering about the recent launch of the "There's a beer for that" campaign.  I can't work out exactly what the problem that people like Matthew Curtis, Chris Hall or (for that matter) HardknottDave are having with this thing.

They seem either to be saying it won't sell more beer, or if it does, it'll be the wrong kind of beer. Allegations of being gagged by the man. There's also a hint of whining about having their brains picked while soaking up free beer at some corporately funded bloggerfest.* Which seems, well,  ungrateful. And really, really, naive.

Whatever, it's maybe a good time to have a look back at some other beer industry campaigns...

Over the last few years we've acquired a few examples of the delightfully dated "Beer belongs" thing, the famous ad campaign by the United States Brewers Foundation that ran from 1945-1956.

It's an interesting campaign, aimed (I'd say) at the newly affluent, those with home refrigerators. No sad old men drinking in crummy bars.

I was going to write at length about it, but it's been done really rather well by one in "All about Beer" magazine in Nov 2009. You can read the article here.  There's additional material by the same author here.  With lots of images. (Scroll down if you're not a reader).


* Not Dave, the other chaps.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bullshit Detector Calibration

I don't know if you're familiar with Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit".  It's required reading round here. Indeed, we have a copy available in the single occupancy employee lounge (you may refer to this as toilet reading).  If you haven't read it, you should.  Then you'll know that the expression "marketing bullshit" is a tautology.

The point Frankfurt makes is that bullshit is not the same thing as a lie.  To call someone a bullshitter is not to call them a liar.  A piece of bullshit may (or may not) be true. A lie is known to be false (by the liar) and is intended to make us believe it to be true.  The key observation is that the bullshitter doesn't really care about the truth value of the statement, it's chiefly (only?) the effect that interests them.

Thus any marketing language is highly likely to be pretty much pure bullshit.  And this is the first step of calibrating the Bullshit Detector (which we assume  you were issued with).  We have what you might call a high a priori probability of bullshit in any marketing message.  That dialed in, we then proceed to scan for other bullshit signals...

An aside:  We don't make a moral judgement here.  You're entitled to bullshit if you wish.  You may consider that it's your job.  It doesn't make you a bad person.   I'd suggest that there may be better ways of persuading people.

So, right, back to it.  Unsupported or unverifiable assertions:  If I say (for instance) "My beer is best", that's a strong bullshit signal.  If I cared about the truth of this statement, I'd give you what you need to evaluate that.  How would you even start? Drink all the beer in the world and then some of mine to check? Only "fonefan" has even tried.  And besides, it's so subjective. Now, if I say "My beer is award-winning", there's a whiff of bullshit, but at least it's objective, and you could investigate for yourself. I may indeed care that this is true, it may be a key part of my message that it is true and if so, not bullshit.

An aside:  Pretty much all breweries are "award winning".  So to assert "My brewery is award winning", while probably true, doesn't convey any actual information.  This is a special case of not caring whether something is true or not. Hence bullshit.

Update: I saw this gem just now, "The fact is we make the best beer in the best way and deliver it in perfect condition". 100% weapons grade bullshit.

Undefined terms:  I say, "I am a craft brewer". You say, "Oho! Define 'craft'".  I say "Hey man , don't be so square, we're not going down that blind alley, we all know what craft means. I'm it. Those guys aren't".  Clearly, if I'm not going to define it, you're not going to be able to tell if it's true or not, and I'm obviously happy with that. Hence bullshit. (N.B. also works for "innovative").

Anonymous sources, attribution of motives to nameless entities (not something out of the Cthulu mythos, you know what I mean, like "them", but not: "The Man" - we all know what that means.)

"Talk is cheap" Is it, in fact, cheap? Blogs are cheap. Newspapers and books are more expensive. Did my lawyers look over what I wrote?  Low cost text may imply low value,  high bullshit nonsense.

Common fallacies.  Double points for red herrings.  Anyone putting together a piece of persuasive text must know that these will be spotted.  But they don't care. Hence bullshit.

Of course, there are other signals, and it may amuse you to adjust your settings accordingly.  But this covers the essential steps of Bullshit Detector Calibration.