The marketing of a beer called Dirty Blonde has sparked a controversy in Nova Scotia’s craft beer industry — and beyond.
Since Nine Locks Brewing launched its Dirty Blonde beer two years ago, its marketing has included several slogans, including “Everybody loves a dirty blonde from Dartmouth.” Recently that language created a storm of reaction on social media. University student Alaska Elisabeth McMillan helped pen an open letter to Nine Locks in response to the battle brewing online — an example, she says, of a larger problem. “That there is this sort of pattern of behaviour in society where we tend to and have historically used women’s bodies as marketing tactics,” McMillan said. Hers wasn’t the only letter sent.
“We received a letter on Nov. 15, signed by 17 of our member breweries expressing concerns about the Nine Locks Brewing advertising and marketing activities,” said Emily Tipton, president of the Craft brewers Association of Nova Scotia. Tipton says, while it doesn’t control how members advertise products, it did pass a motion in 2017 discouraging discriminatory marketing. The group has met with Nine Locks to talk about the concerns. “It’s our understanding from some correspondence that we received yesterday that Nine Locks has indeed ceased these marketing activities,” Tipton said.
The NSLC says it became aware of the concerns around how the beer was being marketed through posts on social media and says that elements of the campaign do violate its advertising rules of conduct More specifically, a section that states that: “all beverage alcohol and cannabis advertising must refrain from using offensive language, such as: racial slurs, misogynistic language, anti-LGBTQ+ and so on.”
The head of Nine Locks Brewing, Shaun O’Hearn, declined CTV’s request for an interview and declined to make a written statement. The incident has kicked off a larger debate in the industry and at Nine Locks Brewing, the sign for its Dirty Blonde beer now carries a different message. It’s a first step, campaign critics say, to changing attitudes beyond beer. As to whether there is concern this could have a chilling effect for other businesses when it comes to marketing their products, marketing experts say not necessarily, but that marketing, as all things, must adapt with the times we live in. In a digital world where a single word can spark a controversy, marketing experts warn about the importance of political correctness.
“Political correctness is actually becoming more and more important,” said Nova Scotia Community College marketing professor Ed McHugh. “We’re a different world. If you look at advertising 50 years ago, or even 40 years ago, some of it would shock us today in terms of what was said and mostly about women.”
As for the Nine Locks Dirty Blonde campaign, McHugh says “it’s a little bit provocative … it’s brought out a bit of a creepy element to it. I’m not sure it’s sexist but it’s certainly border line.” McHugh says that the goal of marketing is to stand out. But it’s not smart marketing to do that at someone’s expense. He says marketing has changed and controversial tactics don’t work as well as they once did. “It’s really important to be politically correct because, our society is kind of like, they’re kind of dramatic and they take a lot of stuff really serious so it’s really, really important,” said one local resident, Laura Koshekova. “If you say something, you will probably offend somebody.”