Carling Brewery apparently did a study back in 1964 to measure consumer’s response to different beer brands, their quality and image. The results were interesting, though hardly surprising.
You can read the study HERE (opens as a .pdf).
Among the conclusions is this: “Participants, in general, did not appear to be able to
discern the taste differences among the various brands, but apparently labels, and their associations, did influence their evaluations. In other words, product
distinctions or differences, in the minds of the participants, arose primarily through their receptiveness to the various firms’ marketing efforts rather than through
perceived physical product differences. Such a finding suggested that the physical product differences had little to do with the various brands’ relative success or failure
in the market (assuming the various physical products had been relatively constant). Furthermore, this elimination of the product variable focused attention on the
various firms’ marketing efforts, and, more specifically, on the resulting brand images.”
What this means, basically, is that macro beer is all the same. Consumers don’t have a clue, nor do they care, what’s IN the bottle. They’re concerned with the image or perception of the brand. No surprise.
The craft brew “boom” probably suffers from some of the same mentality, as some breweries are considered “good” and others only “average” or “poor,” despite the fact that their pale ale or IPA may often be relatively indistinguishable. Most successful craft brewers were either among the first to identify with a style or they’ve constantly pushed the envelope on styles. However, craft beer does represent a consumer trend back to the actual product, rather than the package, for the most part.
Anecdotally, I’ve always found it amusing whenever I’m in one of those “hole in the wall” taverns – that don’t carry fancy beer – as I’ll typically order a Stroh’s, Schlitz, Old Style or some other minor brand to avoid the BMC brands. Inevitably, some old fart banging on a Bud Light will laugh or impugn my choice as being “crappy” beer – as opposed to his “premium” brand. While the discussion is rarely worth having in that setting, we all know – and Carling confirmed in 1964 – that the Bud Light drinker (whose brand, ironically, was not even “invented” until the late 70’s) is a marketer’s dream and he’s full of it.