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Sep 21, 2014

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What's in a name? Plenty
By Janet Eldred

I have a sense of humour -- appreciate the double entendre, the suggestive remark, and (mildly) dirty jokes. And, my ancestry is Anglo-Saxon, famed for its blunt, descriptive vocabulary for parts of the anatomy and bodily functions. Despite this, I have a problem with the names of certain products, services, and events. I'm referring to the crass, vulgar, laddish names of certain pubs, beers, and beer festivals.

Case in point. July's What's Brewing ran an advert from the Great British Beer Club (GBBC) picturing six different beers available from the club. Each label shows the name of the beer and an illustration of a related animal, such as a menacing octopus on "Octopus Soup" and a tiger with gleaming fangs on "Tigers Teeth". The animal shown on "Deep Throat" is an ostrich, and had they stopped there I would have said the beer's name was a bit sly, but harmless. Unfortunately, the description below the picture reads, "A 'Linda Lovelace' of a beer a sensuous golden ale (4.2%), that will slip down the deepest throat". Putting aside the fact that the text misidentifies Ms Lovelace's role in the 1970s film, this overt association with a sexual act performed on men indicates to me that neither the GBBC nor the brewer is interested in female customers for this particular product. (Perhaps they feel that they have already shown more class than Steam Packet, which, according to the 1997 Good Beer Guide, produces a beer called, "Blow Job".) It also calls into question CAMRA's judgement in running the ad.

While I'm not the first person to comment on offensive names that alienate potential customers, I recognise that humour is hard to define and often very personal, and that offensiveness isn't always easy to gauge. Still, if a company truly wants to avoid offense, it can be done. I call on breweries, pub owners, and pub management to exert extra effort, and money, on creativity. They can certainly come up with clever, witty, original names for their products and festivals that would be memorable, and thereby attract more customers. And after all, isn't that their goal?

I also realise that the world of beer is not always a politically correct one, and that overly sensitive types are well advised to don thick skins. But, we're talking about a multi-billion pound industry here, not a collection of 20-year-old men at a college party. The hard, cold fact is that a large proportion of beer drinkers and pub-goers are women (and the men who care about them) and that these customers vote with their feet and their purse. It's time the industry supported its statements about wanting to attract women and families as customers and cleaned up its act on all fronts.

©Janet B. Eldred 1997

STORIES BY
JANET ELDRED