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Substance and Style: State of the Art
Imagine looking back through family photos 20 or 30 years from now, and ask yourself this question: What do I want to see? Do you want to see yourself drinking an Angel Tears IPA, wearing Crocs, Capri pants and a Scooby Doo t-shirt? Or do you want to see something timeless and classic?
From our politicians to the things we consume, I think we’re starving for authenticity in everything. The irony is, the more I look around, the more I see silliness overtaking substance.
A couple of short generations ago, men smoked well, dressed well, ate well, and imbibed well as a matter of course. Now these guys are the exception, unless you count these conspicuously-coiffed hipsters who cross-post “selfies” and food pictures to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. (#yolo #swag)
I blame marketers.
Marketing used to position products as something substantial. It affirmed our cultural values of independence, determination, and the value of hard work. And what do we have now? The message outweighs the product! (Super Bowl commercials, anyone?) In this throwaway age of reality TV, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, we’re being marketed to so hard that the anti-marketing has become the marketing.
It didn’t hurt that products were once made with pride by companies that were invested in more than their bottom line. Branding was relevant to the product and to the value it offered. Packaging was designed to enhance a product; it was shorthand for a level of quality that’s difficult to achieve in a Chinese factory.
You want an example? Let’s look at beer: here’s a traditionally-male product (no offense, ladies-just an observation) whose marketing has come to embrace all kinds of silliness. It used to take years to develop a successful brand; now we’ve got fly-by-night companies shoveling new shit onto the market like every other month.
The Germans must be laughing their asses off at us. Sure, there are some craft brewers doing it right, but mostly I look at craft beer packaging, and it’s like they pulled these goofy-ass brand names out of a book of Mad Libs. Seriously…this is the best you can do? This is putting your best foot forward?
When did beer become like the comic book industry? You’re a grown man, excited about scoring a growler of scratch brew because the hop ratio was 5% different.
“But you can really taste the difference! lol #craftbrewrules”
By sheer volume, craft brewers aren’t even the chief offenders. Look at the biggest names: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, etc. Their ads typically cast men as irresponsible idiots concerned only with eating, drinking beer, and fucking…not that there is anything inherently wrong these things, but how many times do these messages have to be repeated before “manhood” is replaced by “perpetual boyhood?”
Hint: It’s already happening. This “loveable idiot” figure amounts to a cultural assault on what it means to be a man. And like the hair bands and Flock of Seagulls haircuts of the 80’s, some things should go away.
Compare this with how whisky is marketed. I don’t think you’d be rolling up in Scotland with some of this silly bullshit; they’d go William Wallace on you. Scotch packaging is regal…it’s badass. It looks like you’re getting something serious; you know you’re going to sit down and partake in a ritualized, masculine experience.
Even Canadian whiskies have respectable marketing. There was a Canadian Club ad campaign a few years back, “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It.” You know why? Because he was a fucking pimp, that’s why. He wasn’t duped by corny focus-group marketing; he drank it because he had unpretentious tastes, and it tasted good. Other ads from the series included these gems: “Your Mom Wasn’t Your Dad’s First,” “Your Dad Was Not a Metrosexual” and “Your Dad Never Got a Pedicure.” Solid, all around.
For that matter, how about Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign? Now THERE’S a legit brand identity. We all aspire to be that refined, older gentleman someday. Where is THAT in craft beer, instead of goofy names?
It’s not just beer, either. I see more and more silliness popping up everywhere, even in the cigar business. To me, it detracts from the product, and cheapens the experience. This is something you’re going to spend good money on, put in your mouth, and hopefully enjoy. Do you want goofiness, or do you want something serious?
Look, we’re not painting the Sistine Chapel-this is not high art. And don’t misunderstand me; many of these products have evolved tremendously over the decades. Still, is it too much to ask that marketers and manufacturers take some pride in their products?
Our fathers actually believed that they could achieve something in this country. I know I still do, and I hope you do too, but I’ll tell you this: over the years, I’ve seen American optimism undermined by cynicism. It’s like we don’t believe in America anymore.
Remember the family pictures I mentioned that you'll be looking at in 20 years? What you see then depends on the choices you make and the attitude you carry yourself with now. Let’s trade-in “disposable” for “substantial,” “trendy” for “timeless,” and “bullshit” for “authenticity.”