Sunday 28 August 2011

Challenging Beer at Tesco

I am punching myself in the face.

After last week’s post about Tesco’s in-store beer marketing, there’s more this week, again sent over by Rob Marshall. This time it’s for dark beer. I’ll copy verbatim again:

Typically perceived as darker, more intense, fuller bodied, complex and challenging flavours.
i.e. porters, stouts and mild’s.

The beers pictured are Old Peculiar, Black Sheep and Directors.

I’m now punching myself in the face with both fists.

I’m just incredulous that it could get through to the shop floor. I didn’t rip last week’s apart but this one is getting the full treatment.

1. It doesn’t make sense. Literally no sense. Read it again: Typically perceived as darker, more intense, fuller bodied, complex and challenging flavours. How can anyone think that that makes sense, whether you know the content or not?

2. It’s very poorly written. It’s not a sentence. And what the hell is that i.e. doing there?

3. It’s milds, not mild’s. I have no idea how that wasn’t picked up by someone?! Fair enough if you don’t know about beer but at least have someone check the copy for errors.

4. ‘Typically perceived as darker…’ it’s dark fucking beer. That’s what the title says. It’s actually dark, not just perceived as it. And what does dark taste like?

5. ‘…more intense, fuller bodied, complex and challenging flavours.’ Are they trying to sell it or scare people away?! Intense and challenging are not good tasting notes for someone who has never tasted dark beer before.

6. Here’s a picture of Black Sheep (it's from Real Ale Reviews. Also check out Black Sheep's website image).

Guess what? Black Sheep and Directors AREN’T DARK BEERS. They are darker than your lager but they aren’t dark. (Old Peculier is dark. Well done).

But wait. There's more. Here's three other images of their in-store promotion. I'm now typing this with the toes on my left foot as I knee myself in the chin with my right leg.

Speciality beers which are creamy, refreshing and warm. The fruity and exotic beers are 'typically unusual'. The 'fuller flavour' beers include three of the blandest beers on the market and they are described as malty, spicy or slightly fruity. What does that even mean?!

You wouldn’t see Tesco labelling a rose wine as a red wine; you wouldn't see any error like this in the wine aisle. Or describe it as ‘challenging’ to drink. They are poorly put together, badly written, they don't make sense and they don't do beer any favours at all. There are many beer experts in the UK who would gladly help Tesco put together promotional materials. They will explain products to the marketing team. They’ll write it. They’ll copy read proofs for glaring, stupid errors. Why don’t they make use of people who know what they are doing? Why don't they take the beer promotion seriously? Below is last week's image again to complete the set. Well done Britain's biggest retailer...


  1. You've posted all these images now, which makes it seem like they're more likely to be fakes! I know this not to be true however, which makes for an even bigger sad face. Shame Tescos. Shame!!

  2. That's horrendous. I take issue with the lack of consistency with leading and typesize as well; just sloppy. It's not exactly difficult to get this stuff right is it!?

  3. To be fair, dark beers *do* taste darker - and dark is a relative term, so it's fine to say that Black Sheep is a dark beer since, as you say, they're comparing it to lagers. And it wouldn't surprise me if you saw rose as being challenging to drink. This looks to me like a fairly typical supermarket promotion - I imagine the wine stuff is just as bad. On the other hand I bought a case of Jackie Brown at my local Rhythm and Booze from the craft beer section. Only part of the last statement is true...

  4. Black Sheep is not a 'Dark Beer' Try their Riggwelter if you want a dark beer. And asked for Chocolate being an unusual flavour.... (sigh)

  5. Yep, it's really lame. It looks like the job of knocking up this crap up has been given to the new kids as a little 'prentice piece that can't do any serious harm. I wonder if they've had little toy meetings and a little toy budget and everything.

    But why is anyone surprised? It's not the quality of the in-store promotional material that's got Tesco where they are, is it?

  6. There really is no excuse for this, and to reiterate again, of course it wouldn't happen in the wine aisle.

    I've met their head buyer of beers, wines and spirits and he does know a bit about beer, from the days they used to run the Tesco Beer Challenge. So all you can conclude is that they just don't take the speciality beer market seriously enough to grant it the courtesy of getting their facts right. And their spellings.

  7. *cough*

    But yeah: abominable.

  8. I would guess that what the head beer buyer knows or doesn't know is irrelevant. I doubt he's involved much in the marketing promotional materials...

    More's the shame.

  9. It really is incompetence. Hard enough to forgive the beer mistakes, but the copy writing (and lack of checking thereof) is dire and they can't have much of an excuse for that.

    By the way, I perceived my Lees Mild to be Dark yesterday. Because it was.

  10. Matthias - Good point! And no, it's not hard to get stuff like this right, especially for someone of Tesco's size.

    Anon - What does 'darker' taste like?

    Stringers - Yep, it looks like an intern's practice job which somehow, inexplicably, managed to get from their colouring-in pad to the shop floor.

    Des - It wouldn't happen in the wine aisle so it's saddening to think that it can slip through on the beer section. Good on them for trying to promote it and their new beers are great, but this isn't going to sell any beer, is it?

    Kavey - Indeed!

    Tandleman - I think the copywriting annoys me more than anything else. It's a complete lack of care to put something good on the shelf.

  11. What is sad is that it's unlikely for any of the breweries involved to remove their products from Tesco, regardless of how sloppily Tesco treats them.

  12. Fun fact: Tesco aren't ale experts nor do they employ specific marketing experts for every single variety of product they sell nor do they pay well enough to the team they do have to attract the brightest sparks.

    Yes it's crap but, hey, I know what I'm looking for so all the marketing crap Tesco put on the shelves I just ignore and make my choices :)

    It's not sad that breweries are unlikely to remove products as there isn't a spectacular margin on ale especially from smaller breweries so the more, and bigger, places they can get their bottled in to the better! That Tesco carry their stock at all is excellent. That they don't understand what they're selling is annoying but, ultimately, not a problem to the target market.

    What I'm digging at is don't waste your time and energies being elitist and pompous. Enjoy the ales and support the breweries and encourage big names to carry them for the good of the breweries' success and to bring these delicious drinks to as many people as possible :)

  13. Although this material is spectacularly ignorant, at least Tesco are making some kind of effort to encourage people to try something other than the usual. It's probably done by freelancers of some kind rather than in-house staff. Perhaps you should offer them your services, Mark ;-)

  14. Ven - I do support the beers and breweries there and I think they've got a good range, but this in-store stuff isn't going to help anyone else. Describing a beer as 'challenging', 'unusual' or 'intense' isn't going to sell it to anyone.

    Curmedgeon - I would gladly help! I think it's good that they have this in-store and I think it's necessary to help new customers, but what's there now will help no one.

    This link in yesterday's Mirror may be of interest...

  15. "it's probably done by freelancers of some kind rather than in-house staff. Perhaps you should offer them your services, Mark ;-)"

    Someone should send them a copy of the BGBW Handbook.

  16. Putting the copywriting aside, and I agree it is AWFUL, I think we've got to put what they are trying to do in perspective. For example, I was out with some lads this friday who I havent seen for a few years and they are just starting to move away from drinking lager and cider (magners etc) into drinking other beers. They are literally just starting to try things like Pedigree, london pride etc for the first time... but are at least open to trying new things now, whereas before they wouldnt touch any of it.

    I took them to a few decent pubs and was really surprised none of them new what IPA's were, didn't know whether Rudgate Ruby Mild would be dark or light, and didn't know what hops actually did to beer.

    These aren't idiots, they're all clever lads I went to Uni with. They're just normal lager drinkers, and this is who Tesco are trying to talk to. I think if you presented these adverts to them they might actually find em pretty useful. A lot of the flavours are way off from what we know to be right, but think about it, the leffe and hoegaarden pictured are creamier than lagers. It might not be the term we'd use, but it doesnt make it wrong.

    I hate these signs because I know better, but beer geeks aren't the target audience.

  17. Yes, as Neil says, they are trying to do a good thing, but doing it badly. This blogpost is mentioned here by Phil Mellows.

  18. Ven & Neil, this is not about being elitist of geeky or anything of the sort. It's about ACCURACY! It's all well and good to promote beers that have not otherwise had much exposure, but to do it with mistake-riddled copy is pathetic.

    Would Tesco put a sign in the Rioja aisle explaining the "challenging redness" of Spanish wines? A placard over the Irish whiskeys talking about what great vodkas they are? Something in the bakery section talking about how the breads range from nutty to roasty in flavour? I doubt it.

    I'm significantly older than Young Dredge, so I'm less irritated by grammatical abominations in advertising and marketing, but it's still annoying when organizations that know better get it so desperately wrong.

  19. We complain about this sort of idiocy, rightfully so. But has anyone tried calling Tesco marketing department and taking them to task about it? In my experience with a bit of persistence you can get someone on the phone and milk a nice blog post out of the response. I'd do it myself but I'm in Canada and I don't fancy the long-distance to listen to Tesco corporate hold-muzak.

  20. It seems I have a kindred spirit ;-)

  21. For me 'Hobgoblin' is the very definition of dark beer in both it's appearance and complex taste. They should have used this beer as a good example.