The Joy of Music

Why create something intended to NOT stand out?

The Joy of Music

Imagine this: You are in a small, sound-proof booth, in the depths of an anonymous-looking research station. As you move forward and sit down, on the plastic table in front of you is a set of headphones and a piece of card. The latter instructs you to place the former on your head, and that you will be played three pieces of music. Two will be the same. All you have to do is identify the one that is different. Easy!

When the headphones spring to life, the music that leaks out is fairly nondescript; the tempo characterless. Thankfully, it doesn't last that long before ceasing, but it certainly leaves you uninspired. After a pause, the second track begins. It's exactly the same as the first. There's no difference. This is going to be the easiest £20 you ever made! After the dirge finishes a second time, there's a pause. You wait. Track three starts.

It's the same again.

What? Is this a trick, or something? Song three must have been the odd one out; the first two were identical! It had to be three. You start to pull off the headphones and stand up, but a voice appears from the earpieces.

"Thank you for participating. This test was not deceitful. Track One and Track Three were the same. Track Two was, in fact, created by a different musician, yet composed to sound as similar as possible; to be uniform. We have one more question. Would you like to listen to this style of music forever?

- - -

Ok, so this scenario isn't exactly likely – you'd pocket the twenty and randomly pick one of the songs, before heading home and letting your mind wander to thoughts of Chinese takeaways. But 'triangle tests' do exist, and one was in the news last week; a study found that in a blind-tasting triangle of three European pale lagers, consumers were unable to pick the one that was different. As researchers Johan Almenberg, Anna Drebera and report author Robin Goldstein summed up, 'this may be an example of a product category in which marketing and packaging are the main drivers of consumer differentiation.'

To tell them apart, you need a logo.

This is the kick in the Speedos that European macro lager has deserved for some time - scientific proof that their level of homogeneity has become their very reason for existing.  They are one-note harmonies, not composed to attract and hold listeners on musical merit, but based on the gaudiness of their album covers. It deadspins brewing and beer drinking into a turgid exercise of brand loyalty – and not even to the right department. It's like going to your favourite team's club shop on matchday and cheering the t-shirts, rather than the players.

Let's get this out there, once and for all. These breweries have billion-dollar advertising budgets, and spend astronomical sums on blending batches into the same rigorously-defined flavour profile, wherever it is to be consumed in the world. Is it any wonder people can't tell them apart? And that leads to the obvious question; if the specifics of macro-lager can't be discerned, why are they making it? How is that progressive? When the sum total of their experimentation is someone circling the words 'Extra Cold' on a meeting-room flipchart, knowing that three months later, their competitors will simply do the same.

In response to his report, author Robin Goldstein told the Telegraph "I think basically what we're looking at is a commodity industry - the products are interchangeable." So, it's the Top 40, with the same baseline, drum beat and vocals in every song. Would you want to listen to that, if you even suspected there were alternatives? Indie music, or punk. Sweeping, thunderously dramatic classical music. Jaunty jazz that sounds like a one-man-band falling down a flight of stairs. Or, even, a tune with the same baseline, drum beat and vocals as those in the macro-charts, only composed to be individual of outlook. When it comes to the harmonies of beer, there is just so much scope for differentiation.

So why create something to not stand out?

Share This

Join the Discussion

Comments (15)

Ben F 20th August, 2014 1:35pm
Testing like this, when done properly, is usually done in a room with dim red lighting to disguise the colours of the products being tested.The end of the article makes out that this market homogeneity is a good thing for the beer lover. The mind boggles.
BrewDogSarah 20th August, 2014 12:59pm
PeteH - No idea! I didnt do the study ;) But if they were different colours Id have thought that would make it more easy to pick the one that was different.
PeteH 20th August, 2014 12:57pm
BrewDogSarah - was it a true blind tasting ? I.E. could you see the coulour of the liquid you were drinking ?Recently I saw a test that involved 3 different coloured liquids. They were all identical apart from the colour, yet people tasting them said they tasted different because their eyes were telling them they were different.The red one tasted of watermelon or strawberry, the green one tasted of grapes, etc.Just a thought ......
BrewDogSarah 20th August, 2014 9:35am
Grahamf4- Thats not the point. The point is they couldnt tell them apart, not that they couldnt tell which one was which. In the test, (which was blind, so no brands or names attributed anywhere for the subjects), two of the beers were the same beer and one was different. Subjects could not tell which one was the different one. If you lined up two servings of any of the BrewDog beers you mentioned against a beer of the same style from another brewery, I argue that yes, you would easily be able to tell which one was a DIFFERENT beer, even if you could not necessarily say which was which. The distinguishing characteristics that make them taste different are all extremely prevalent, regardless of whether you know which one came from which brewery.
Mr. Hophead 20th August, 2014 7:32am
This study does not mirror the Austrian beer market. Thank God!
johnh 19th August, 2014 9:02pm
*bassline* :)
S 19th August, 2014 6:35pm
Compare lagers...meh. Compare IPAs...mmm-meh.Compare an IPA to a lager...hello!
Grahamf4 19th August, 2014 5:48pm
Reckon the same would be said of Punk, Hardcore, Riptide, 5am Saint. At the end of the day, line those up against equivalents in style and even name the breweries and punters would probably get them wrong. Reckon Brewdog would get them wrong.
Heatherfel 19th August, 2014 5:22pm
This is why I love the craft beer movement...cold yes, taste...fantastic.
WhatDaddy 19th August, 2014 3:30pm
Thats a problem even with the alternatives. Just to pick them up, doesnt make the difference. You have to compare and decide once again, or you went into a similar trap with an other look ;-)And of course, there are lagers out there with different taste, but, like with everything else, you have to find, compare, pay and support it.
Hawkmoon 19th August, 2014 3:06pm
The more standardized the product is, the more they destroy peoples capability to taste, the easier it is to manipulate them with advertising. Advertising knows no boundaries, while taste can be subjective and it is often a limit. The aim of big companies is to widen their target as much as possible. If they sold a product with a distinctive taste, they would confine themselves in a niche - ie, those who actually like the product, or not not like it. By taking taste out of the equation, their target becomes everybody who can be manipulated by advertising, which is 99% of the population.
The Camouflage Trouser Company Ltd. 19th August, 2014 3:00pm
Because its part of the product spec we got from the army?
John Smith 19th August, 2014 2:51pm
The problem with that lager test you are talking about is the participants. There is no way on earth that a Budvar tastes the same as a Stella, and you are doing the brewers a dis-service by towing the line, simply because it suits the Brewdog manifesto. Boo to you Brewdog, boo to you.
theirlaw 19th August, 2014 2:10pm
The same test could be performed with some ipas and yield the same result. For the record, I despise lager.
Si87 19th August, 2014 2:04pm
Very eloquently put!