I don’t do advertising.
I do review beer, and if someone sends me a bottle of beer – or stands me a pint or five – I’ll put my impressions on here (using the ‘category’ tag of “Free as in beer”). And I’ll probably be reasonably positive, or mildly critical at worst – it seems polite.
What you’re not going to see here is rewritten press release copy, or those posts that look like a promo from a free paper (“Those nice people at AB-InBev have sent me a bag of free stuff, and now it’s your turn!”). I hate reading that kind of thing, so I’m certainly not going to write it. So when you do see a product endorsement on Oh Good Ale, you’ll know it’s a product endorsement you can really trust… hang on, that’s not where I thought I was going with that one. (Shall I put the Bill Hicks link in now? You know the one.)
Anyway, yesterday I had some free stuff delivered (after a brief email exchange of the “would you like some free stuff?” variety). Beer, specifically. Most of it looks good, some of it I know to be good. I haven’t drunk the beer yet, for reasons that will become obvious, but here’s what I think of it so far.
The beer. I was sent three 500 ml bottles, three 330s and two 355s. Both the 355 ml bottles are from the same US brewery; otherwise they’re all from different breweries. The breweries in my selection are Barney’s*, Church Farm**, Grain*, Oakham, Stevens Point, Top Out** and the very wonderful Ticketybrew (* = never seen their beer before; ** = never heard of them before). Most of the beers are low-strength; only three go over 5% and only one over 6%.
The service. The deal is that the retailer sends you eight bottles of what they insist on calling ‘craft beer'; it comes in a box decorated with the silly food-matching diagram I wrote about in this post, bizarrely enough. There’s also an informative leaflet with some useful details on the beers and breweries, as well as some more silly food suggestions (with ‘red meat’ you want a dubbel, apparently, unless it’s a steak (stout) or it’s been barbecued (pale ale)). You pay £24 for this; a month later, they do it all over again and you pay them again. (The Web site seems to want you to set up a recurring payment authorisation on your credit card. I’d be a lot happier with a Direct Debit mandate; in my experience recurring payments on CCs are a swine to manage.)
The price and value (the offering if you want to be pretentious). There’s a trade-off between price and perceived value – quality, rarity, novelty etc – and for me, living where I do and drinking what I do, this box doesn’t quite hit it. I buy a lot more beer in supermarkets than in specialist shops; there’s a huge range of beer available in the supermarkets around here, and although it’s not a huge interesting range, it is a range with interesting fringes. So I’m not used to going much over £2 a bottle – particularly not for a small bottle. Also, I’m not a mad ticker, so I don’t seize on beers I’ve never seen before with whoops of glee; and I don’t often – actually, I don’t ever – buy beer by post, so I’m not habituated to adding a bit for P+P. All in all, if I was being asked to pay £3 for a 330 ml bottle of Barney’s GOPA (3.8%), I would not feel I was getting a good deal. But your utility function may vary (enough jargon already – Ed.) If you’re less bothered by the pricing, have fewer alternatives to mail order or really like the sound of those breweries, this may suit you better than it does me. And let’s face it, you can always cancel after a month or two (although, as I say, I have had trouble stopping recurring payment authorisations before now).
The marketing. I’m going to be a bit harsh here, I’m afraid. I work from home quite a lot, which means that I’m interrupted quite often by phone calls from people who tell me they’re from Microsoft Technical Support and they’ve received error messages from my computer. (Sometimes I tell them I use a Mac.) Obviously “I’m from Microsoft” is just an opener – a way of getting the punter into conversation – but it’s still a con; you really shouldn’t make a statement like that unless you mean it, and if you mean it you should be willing to prove it. (Sometimes I ask them what my IP address is. That’s fun. One of them even had an answer – it’s 192.168.0.1, he said (that’s one for the geeks).)
The thing is, I don’t think there’s much difference between that approach and mailing a random beer blogger with a line like “I’m a huge fan of your blog”. This line – which I have seen before – just makes me think, O RLY? What is it that you particularly like about my blog in particular, hmm? In the case of this particular retailer I tried to set them a bit of a test (“Your familiarity with my blog should give you a pretty good idea what I do & don’t like in the world of beer”) – and I will admit that my first reaction to seeing the beers was that they’d included the Ticketybrew because they knew I’m a fan. Not so, as I realised when I saw the leaflet; nothing personalised about this box, any more than the email. I’ve worked in business, and I know that if you make stuff, or sell stuff, you always have some spare stuff knocking about, or put some stuff aside for spare. What they’ve done, essentially, is sent me a form email followed by some spare stuff, in the hope that I’ll give them a bit of
advertiahempresence on social media. As transactions go it’s a bit, well, cheap.
I’m not saying I feel hard done by – far from it; one free beer is a bonus, let alone eight. (All those years doing political and current affairs blogging, before I started on this beer lark; nobody ever sent me any free, um, politics. I may have spotted the problem.) What I’m saying is that their marketing needs some work, especially if they’re serious about doing social media stuff. With their current approach they may get a few Those nice people at X have sent me… posts and related tweetage, but they’re missing the chance to build relationships with actual bloggers, who (like Soylent Green) are people.
So, anyway. Eight beers a month (quite good ones, mostly not in the high street); £24 a month. Up to you. More details in comments.