As It Happens

Sexist beer ads leave South Africans 'dumbfounded'

Thandi Guilherme couldn't believe her eyes when she saw Vale Bru's campaign, which had beers like the Easy Blonde and the Filthy Brunette.

Vale Bru has apologised and pulled the labels.

One of the labels from the advertisement campaign reads "Easy Blonde: A California blonde all your friends have had." (Facebook/Vale Bru)

"All your friends have had her."

That is one of the more tame taglines used in a recent campaign by a South African beer company.

It's by the brand Vale Bru, and that particular slogan is for a beer called Easy Blonde. The campaign has caused outrage in South Africa and prompted the company to apologize and pull the labelling.

Thandi Guilherme wrote about the controversial campaign on her craft beer blog Craft Geek. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Guilherme about why she spoke out.

Here is part of their conversation.

Thandi, what did you think when you first saw how these beers were being marketed?

Carol, I was horrified. I think I was dumbfounded, speechless, shocked.

Johannesburg-based brewery Vale Bru issued an apology after their advertising campaign was labelled sexist. (Facebook/Vale Bru)

We're going to have to go through them unfortunately, so people get a sense of this, but can you just give us the three kinds of beer and a sense of how they were describing them?

The blonde beer which used to be called Vale Bru was now renamed Easy Blonde. Blonde is a style of beer so on its own it's not terribly offensive. But the tagline is, "a California blonde all your friends have had."

And in the description, again, "All your friends have already had her. Meet our Easy Blonde."

The second one was called the Raven Porra. If you don't know, "Porra" is a slur term for people of Portuguese heritage. And this one was with a tagline of, "a porter with the best head in town."

Then there's the Ripe Redhead. "This little lady," apparently, "was previously a Ginger Pikey." Which is also a slur term for Irish travellers.

And the last one called, the Filthy Brunette. And the description is, "When gushing and moist are used to describe something, then you know. Number three, and by no means anything less than delicious, we present you our Filthy Brunette. An Indian Pale Ale from the #vale."

Which is also a really silly way of describing an India Pale Ale, which is an actual beer style.

What were they thinking? Did anyone think this was a good idea?

I've been in two minds about this. On the one hand, they claim — post the first apology, the sort of "sorry, not sorry" apology — they claim that they wanted their marketing and their branding and their labels to make people think, make people talk.

But I think that's fairly convenient. I don't actually think that that was their intention at all.

I really think that they thought they were being clever and they thought that people would response to it, that they'd hit their target markets on the head. Well, clearly, they didn't. But there was some support so they weren't, maybe, totally off.

Thandi Guilherme spends her free time reviewing craft beers on her blog "Craft Geek". (Submitted by Thandi Guilherme)

But it's 2018 and we're just in the middle of the whole #MeToo movement. I mean, have they been under a rock?

They must have been. But you know it's really funny because this is a beer brand. They don't actually even make the beer.

For a company that focuses on branding, they really missed the mark. They've got worldwide issues. They're clearly ignorant of them. I could not believe it.

You wrote in your blog that, "#MeToo‚ Rape culture and Trump's 'locker room' misogyny are not funny. These are real problems that society is trying to deal with. Don't go there." But you say this company did have support for what they did. How much response have you had to what you're trying to point out about this?

The response has been overwhelming. I can't even tell you, Carol. It's been amazing. It seems like probably 80 or 90 per cent of people were absolutely aghast at this messaging and this branding.

But there were, there were a whole bunch of other Vale Bru supporters who, I suppose, tried to point out other things. Like the good that they do in society or the community. =

We were called all kinds of things — "over sensitive lesbians." We were called "special snowflakes." But I'll tell you what, if the response that we've now gotten, and the action that has now been taken, is the result of being a snowflake — I'll be a snowflake.

And these are issues, very sensitive issues, in South Africa, aren't they?

Hugely sensitive, hugely sensitive. We have got a real, real rape culture problem. Femicide is a massive issue.

Rape, at the last estimate I found, was one woman every 26 seconds, which is appalling. 

The company itself, Vale Bru, as you say, has apologized. They say they've taken full responsibility and promised to remove the labelling. Is that enough for you?

It's all we've got right now. The first apology that they issued was kind of a "sorry, not sorry" apology.

Two days later, it was a complete reversal, seemingly written by somebody totally different, hopefully a hired PR person.

But I think that our intention as the women in beer and women in the country was not to close the business down. It was to change the labelling.

Written by Sarah Jackson and John McGill. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q & A edited for length and clarity.