Another bitterly cold December evening in Edinburgh. My brother and I did what all lads do when it’s a school night with no work the next day. We went to the Pub. And as we wandered into this slick but empty bar, we scoured the beer selection. Eventually, we opted for a classy looking number that my brother has tasted before called ‘Vedett’. ‘It’s an extra blond Belgian’ said the lad behind the bar. I had never sampled any kind of an extra blond Belgian before.
As the beverages arrived, we both instantly noticed the luscious and curvaceous glasses that cuddled our beers. At that time of year, it could have been a glass of melted yellow snow, but we knew it was going to taste good. And as we sat with our ‘hoppy and refreshing imported pilsner’ it tasted divine. Every sip was a delight. A real treat to warm our cockles.
As expected, they quickly disappeared. The eager waiter pounced, so naturally we ordered a couple more. £8 for two pints. A bargain for that level of pleasure. A few minutes later, as the waiter arrived from behind me, I could see the horror on my brother’s face. And as the waiter placed the beers on the table, my heart sank. A soulless run-of-mill glass had replaced the beautiful Belgian branded beaker. One of us had to act. Without any remorse for looking like a total geek, I stepped up. ‘Have you not got any of those nice glasses mate?’ I enquired. ‘Sorry pal, they’re all getting washed’ he replied. Washed? There was no one else there! Did they only have two glasses saved for Geordie Indian Royalty? As we took a sip. We both knew. ‘It just doesn’t taste the same in this glass’ I said. My brother nodded but soldiered on with an almighty gulp. Very big of him.
Could this be? Could a drink taste so different and lose all its brilliance on the shape of a glass? Well, it wasn’t really just the glass, it was the brand. The glass was simply part of the brand experience. In our eyes, this drink was premium, rewarding, Belgian and cool. The glass was part of the jigsaw and when this key part was removed, it was a dramatic Jenga-style collapse.
Over the last decade, the influx of branded beer glasses in pubs has been phenomenal. Still not convinced it’s that big a deal? Why do you think Stella Artois decided to distance itself from its 5.2% beer that came in a steroid-pumped glass in exchange for a curvy, continental, metro-sexual one for its 4% option? Nothing to do with the ‘wife-beater’ tag it still hasn’t shifted I’m sure.
So why does branded stuff seem better? Well, all those aspirational adverts, quirky news stories, wonderful websites, shiny celeb endorsements, memorable brand experiences and glowing recommendations that ‘you don’t take any notice of’ actually get embedded somewhere in your complex brain. You can’t help but absorb all this info and build up a perception of brands and everything associated with them. So basically, it’s all in your head. Don’t worry, lots of clever marketing people get paid lots to put it there.
That’s what brands do. They bombard you. And most of the time, it works. I’m not one for brand bashing but there is a brilliant observation by Naomi Klein in her acclaimed anti-branding book ‘No Logo’ that always resonated with me. She points out the irony with the world’s most recognised fashion global brands (Nike, Gap etc.) in that they appear on everything everywhere to get on our radar wherever we go. Except of course the places where the products are actually made. Somewhere on that little continent called Asia.
Just this week I was bemoaning the opening of another new shop near our flat. Shop-fit, another bloody shop-fit I muttered as I walked past it. And yesterday, evening on my way to a meeting (ahem, pub), signage appeared. Everything changed. A beacon of all things wrong but so right about city centres today. Tesco Extra. I’m all for shopping local but the queen of convenience and value may as well have moved in it’s that handy. And as I arrived at the bar, the excitement was too much. ‘Dry January’ took another dip in the beer pool. ‘I’ll have a pint of Peroni please’ I said. And as the branded glass appeared, I knew it was the best day ever.