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Monday, January 9, 2012

"Wife Beater" On Wikipedia?

You may or may not know that the ABIB/InBud-brewed Stella Artois is colloquially known as "Wife Beater" in the UK. Or at least, it was for a while...and now will be again, thanks to the publicity for that embarrassing monicker generated by a hired PR company's clumsy attempts to expunge it. Sure, it's true: read about the original story here in The Independent, and then read the story here on how InBud defends their actions in hiring Portland Communications to scrub the term "Wife Beater" from the Stella Artois entry on Wikipedia.

(Why "Wife Beater?" Depends on who you ask. There's the "Stella!" line from A Streetcar Named Desire, bellowed by the abusive Stanley Kowalski, but others will tell you that it's because the beer appeals to the kind of yob that would beat his wife, or that the beer's drinkers would be the kind to walk about in the strapped undershirts colloquially called "wife beaters." (Note that Brando's wearing a regular t-shirt in the clip.) I favor the first; fits too well, and the others just sound like snobbery to me.)

I don't care that some intellectually-aware beer drinkers tagged Stella with the name "Wife Beater." Well, I do, a bit; it does wink and giggle at domestic abuse to some extent, and that's bullshit. But as a writer, and a reader, and an independent thinker, I care a lot about this kind of paid clean-up activity on the Internet. It's the greatest strength and weakness of Wikipedia; anyone can edit it, and that leaves it open to abuse...except it's not happening here. The editors caught the changes, and reinstated the references.

Why did Portland think they could do this, and why did InBud believe them? Well, sit down, because someone's got to tell you: it's because they still think you're a bunch of chumps. It's because some marketers still look at us as cattle, as blind sheep, and they don't try to influence you, they set out to manipulate you. There is a difference, and there are ethical, good-minded marketers who look to influence your decisions without insulting you. Portland Communications are not such marketers, and apparently, InBud doesn't hire that kind, either.

Friends from Europe have been telling me for years -- years! -- that InterBrew, then InBev, and now ABIB is a company that's bad for the industry, that they indulged in bad business practices, that they killed breweries, that everything they touched turned to crap. I resisted. Stella, for what it's worth, still tastes decent when it's a fresh draft, and that's my touchstone: what's in the glass? I just repeated that to folks at Bocktown Monaca who had come out to see me last Tuesday: I don't care who's making it -- as long as they're not using child or convict labor -- I care about how it tastes.

But this...leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

This is the same exact kind of Internet manipulation that has aided and abetted a particular lobbying effort against a certain Penna. politician regarding..... well, let's assume you know what I refer to, and not go there.

The dilemma and fine line between editorial oversight and "censorship" will always rage. What's funny is watching folks who could more easily just act better or make a better product expend more energy on offensive or corrective action instead.

Bill said...

I guess it was clumsy, but I think it's smart of whatever the parent company is now called to get the Wikipedia article changed, because why should the article contain something defamatory? If the marketing company was putting ad copy or misleading praise or false information into Wikipedia, that would be outrageous -- but to remove a slur? That's just protecting a brand. I wonder if folks thought that doing it this way would engendered less ill will then sending a cease-and-desist letter would have.

Lew Bryson said...'s actually hard to call it defamatory, Bill. This is a popular nickname, whether ABIB likes that or not, and that's what Wikipedia is reporting. It's not a deliberate campaign to destroy the brand, it just grew out of calling for a "STELLA!" It's really more playful than defamatory, and to ignore it is to ignore reality. Indeed, as I alluded to in the original post, the marketers may have actually given new life to the nickname by bringing it to the fore in the news like this.

In fact, the Wikipedia article reflects the totality of reality: it now includes this incident.

Anonymous said...

Well, see, i have to disagree with your conclusion that it's more playful than defamatory. Let's say it grew out of the Brando impersonation -- there's a huge leap from doing a mush-mouth "Stelllaaaa!!!" to coming up with "wife-beater." If I'm ABInBev (am I close on the name?), I don't want that association. Because it's about domestic abuse. The "fact" that it's a popular nickname doesn't make it a desirable nickname, or a tasteful nickname.

And let me stack up the soapboxes a bit higher: I know the people who playfully use the term are full, in-depth humans with feelings and troubles and dreams and all... but in using the term, they're being insensitive rather than being clever. They're like the folks who describe stupid things as "retarded" and call people who do dumb things "retards." They're choosing cruelty over kindness, because they think it doesn't matter, and they don't MEAN it, and people who take offense are just too sensitive...

I don't think ABInBev thinks we the consumers are stupid. They don't get the intricacies of the Internet, perhaps (or they do, but made a stupid hire in that firm). They realize that the association between Stella Artois and "wife-beater" is detrimental and took steps to break it. They're trying to change a reality that isn't beneficial -- I like that a lot more than accepting said reality.


Lew Bryson said...

ABIB thinks we're dumb enough to not know their paid marketers are changing Wikipedia. Yeah, they are, and they were wrong.
Do I applaud "Wife Beater"? Of course not, I've already said so. Did I say it was desirable, or tasteful? No, but that's got nothing to do with it: it's irrelevant. It's not a matter of whether the nickname is "right" or not; it's a matter of ABIB editing reality without being transparent about it...and in the process, making their situation worse than it was.

Look, Corona took on the rumor that Mexican brewery workers were pissing in the bottles, they hired investigators, and they tracked the rumor down to a rival brand's wholesaler rep. They won a judgment that the perpetrator had to publicly recant, and pay for the publicity to spread that recantation. Not an identical case, but Grupo Modelo handled it clean, out in the open, instead of manipulating reality to make it the way they wanted it.

The connection between Stella Artois and its UK nickname is unfortunate, it's distasteful. But when a company attempts to manipulate public information, they're trying to make two wrongs into a right. Not gonna work.

Anonymous said...

According to this, it seems that isn't a silly hipster nickname for the brew, and it actually is the third option. Which makes it all the more repulsive, really. And with that, I can pretty much tell you exactly how it went down: InBev realizes they have a branding/identity problem, and hire a PR consultant to do something about it. Apparently "doing something about it" involved trying to whitewash the wikipedia reference away. Which may not be any better, but at least it's understandable. You're a whisky man, too, so you know what happens when someone confuses Southern Comfort with actual bourbon...

Lew Bryson said...

It is precisely this "whitewash" that I have a problem with. And blaming a particular brand -- Stella, Southern Comfort, or Four Loko -- for overdoing it is scapegoating.

Velky Al said...

When InBev bought Staropramen and started brewing Stella in Prague it seemed the nation went Stella nuts for a while. I spent several nights in pubs watching the ice hockey World Cup surrounded by Czechs chanting "Cesko, Cesko" (the Czech equivalent of "U-S-A") or "Cesi do toho" (translates as "Czechs go to it") whilst drinking Stella instead of a Czech lager, because Stella was "sophisticated".

Steven said...

"...because Stella was 'sophisticated'."

Sophisticated? Or just the latest fad everyone had glommed on to? Happens all the time in the US.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of accidentally angering you again, the articles you link to suggest InBev wasn't hiding anything. The first article stated the marketing co. made changes under a handle that referenced their own name, and used that same handle for work with other clients; when asked about it, they said "Yes, that's us." When reporters went to InBev, they also said, "yes, they're doing it for us because we're trying to show we're serious about domestic abuse." (I think -- the article today appears behind a paywall, so I'm working on memory)

I respect your opinion on the potential abuse of paid marketers and Wikipedia, but there's no evidence to me that anything untoward happened here. They didn't change anything about the beer description, they didn't put in marketing language, if there was language describing the taste as "bland" or "nondescript" or "gawdawful," they left it alone. They solely went after language tying Stella to domestic violence.

I'm sure there are better ways the company could have done this, but I don't see why THIS way got you so angry. They didn't dissemble when questioned -- they said, "yes, we did it." That doesn't suggest to me that they were trying to hide things nor the conclusion that they think we're dumb. And it seems to be well within the bounds of Wikipedia rule. I have more problem with the Wiki editors who reinstated the wifebeater language -- I have no idea why that adds to anybody's understanding of Stella nor why it makes the article "better.".

I stop after three comments, so no worries about me keeping this going any more. I didn't mean to upset you.

Bill, who wonders why Google can't make an easier log-in system for its blog comments

jp said...

I was always more of a branický guy over smichovský , that is, until Staropramen started brewing it, then I was and remain in the Velkopopický camp, even though it is now it is now owned by SAB, škoda to je.

Lew Bryson said...

Not angry, Bill; hell, if I were, I wouldn't have posted your comment. I really only get angry when people say nasty personal shit about other people -- me or anyone else -- and those I deal with by not posting them. No worries. I don't happen to agree with you -- I believe AB and Portland are bowing to reality (when you're pinged with an IP address owned by your company, it's fruitless to deny it) -- but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop you saying it. Cheers.

Velky Al said...


I used to love Kozel, back in the pre-SABMiller days. It was a lovely, lovely pint.

jp said...

@ Al Kozel desetka and tmave were truly great beers in my distant memory as I have not lived in the CR for going on 20 years I fondly recall weekly Kozel sessions as a 21 year old u Cerneho Vola tell me are they still brewing in Benešov? I used to really go for Ferdinand

Alistair Reece said...


Ferdinand are still there and doing well, they have at least 2 tied houses in Prague now, one just off Vaclavak the other in Mala Strana.

The one near Vaclavak was about 2 minutes from my flat and made a perfect "popping in for a quick pint" stop on the way home.

jp said...

@Velky Al re: Benesovske nice to hear. Like reading your blog as well, nazdravi!