The business of selling beer

SABMiller's new Impala Beer is marketed to poor people who don’t buy other commercially distributed beers because they are too expensive.

Image: SABMIller.

In the last two decades, SABMiller become one of the world’s biggest beermakers by buying domestic labels and marketing them locally. They’ve hired anthropologists, historians, and sociologists to help sell ‘local intimacy’ for 200 plus brands in 75 plus countries and demonstrated that regional branding can be competitive on a global scale. Their domesticating efforts in African, Asian, and Latin American markets have given the London-based multinational a reputation for  daring. But now that SABMiller has launched the first ever commercial cassava-based beer with its subsidiary in Mozambique, there’s just one question—why is Impala Beer’s branding so bad?

The world’s first public video for cassava-based beer starts with a close up of earnest grimace (0:12min mark)

SABMiller has been accused of tax evasion in India and five African countries, including Mozambique. Since they’ve already negotiated out of Maputo’s excise tax for all future production of cassava-based beer, SABMiller wants to sell this beer as though it were charity work.

At the very least, the video presents a very romantic vision of Impala’s production model. It promises to improve the lives of subsistence farmers by providing a new reliable market for their small crops and amazingly, to make subsistence communities more self-sufficient. Business leaders know that Cervejas de Moçambique, the national brewery manufacturing the cassava product, already sold its contracts to big producers and started operating a year ago.

Is this romantic vision still tied to Max Weber’s belief in a Protestant work ethic that justifies industry as a virtue in itself? An evangelical fervor for self-improvement through the consumption of commodities?

Impala is being marketed to poor people who don’t buy other commercially distributed beers because they are too expensive.

The tropes in the ad are familiar: Show industrious-looking Africans. Show a guy (usually a white man) showing them what to do.

The problem is SABMiller is a multinational (well, very much a South African and British multinational, if you can make out the accents of its managers) in the business of selling beer, and beer is too laid-back for these tax-ass-saving moves.

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