The Joy of Music
Why create something intended to NOT stand out?
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?
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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?