Ernest Dichter and American Brewing
My Part I included remarks to the American brewing industry in 1962 by the motivational psychologist Dr. Ernest Dichter (1907-1991). They appeared in the New York-based advertising journal, Printers’ Ink.
He suggested brewers fund a study to explore reimagining their beer, which he typed as “somewhere in between soft drinks and hard liquor”. He thought Americans, especially a new generation if given the chance, would welcome a “heavier”, more “European” beer.
Dichter was an Austrian-born Jewish refugee of Hitlerism who had worked professionally in Vienna in the mid-1930s. He advised the dairy industry on milk promotion while still in the country.
By the 1960s he was internationally known for his path-breaking studies of consumer behaviour, which used insights of psychoanalytic theory and sociology.
He put his work in service of the business community to help promote sales and markets. As I will discuss, Dichter had advised individual breweries as a consultant.
Brewers Seeking new Directions
Most brewers reading Dichter in Printers’ Ink probably were bemused, given American brewing had been wedded to pale adjunct lager for almost 100 years. But some were thinking out of the box. One investigated dispensing non-alcohol beer by vending machine, and brewing fruit-flavoured beer.
Anheuser-Busch’s new, shaped bottle for Michelob was featured in the same issue. The item explained A-B hoped to parry import competition with a high-end taste. (To what extent that occurred, given the recipe was revised to include rice, 20% by some reports, is another question).
Earlier I discussed another 1960s brewer, Hamm’s of St. Paul, which sought to marry European and domestic brewing influences. See this ad of the period in Life magazine for Hamm’s Waldech:
Waldech. Possibly the third new taste you are looking for in beer.
Despite such tentative moves American brewing wouldn’t revise its basic conception of beer for another 30 years – and quite possibly it never has, in fact.
A concise, popular explanation of Dichter’s methods appears from an incisive interview of Dichter in 1970 by Pamela Rothon, preserved in the Hagley Digital Archives.
With the biographical 2002 film mentioned in Part I, it explains why he is remembered today.
The clipping of the article at Hagley archive does not state the magazine title, so unfortunately article source is not known. It has good, colour photos of a pipe-smoking Dichter at work in his secluded compound in the Hudson Valley, New York.
Not unexpectedly Dichter comes across, indeed by his own words, as a meticulous, driven personality. He spoke five languages, impressive in itself. Notable too was his almost unaccented English, which can be heard in the film.
Rothon stated Dichter had authored thousands of behavioural studies for both large and medium-size companies.
Early Brewery Connections
It seems unlikely Dichter would be interviewed by Printers’ Ink on brewing without prior connections to the industry.
Indeed he had been conducting attitudinal research for different brewers since the 1940s. The Hagley Business Archive lists 27 of his reports, for brewers such as Carling, Goetz, Mexicali, Regal-Amber, and Pabst.
A study from 1956 has been digitized, “A Progress Report of a Motivational Research Study on Falstaff’s Position in the Northern California Beer Market”.
Falstaff of St. Louis was a brewer of nation-wide scope in this period, with a dozen satellites. During Prohibition it had acquired the Falstaff name from the well-regarded Lemp Brewery in St. Louis, which closed in 1921.
Its fortunes revived after Prohibition due to this strategic purchase. One of its satellites c. 1960 was the ex-Wieland brewery in San Jose, CA, acquired in 1952. It was formerly Pacific Brewing & Malting, and dated back in different incarnations to the 1800s.
In an earlier post I quoted Joe Griesedieck, Sr. of the family that owned Falstaff, from an article he authored in 1963 on the brewing environment. Falstaff was then at the height of its success but facing challenges, some of which he discussed in his remarks.
The fall ended in the mid-1970s when corporate raider Paul Kalmanowitz absorbed Falstaff via his General Brewing in San Francisco.
Dichter’s 1956 Report to Falstaff
I’ll give examples of remarks in Dichter’s report I found of particular interest.
I should say first, he wrote nothing on beer formulation – there is no suggestion to change or improve the product much less refashion it on European lines. That was a deeper, more fundamental issue to be addressed, if at all, at industry level as Dichter recognized in 1962.
Indeed Dichter assumed the opposite case: Falstaff was and would remain a typical American beer, well-made but in practical terms indistinguishable from California competitors such as Lucky Lager and Burgermeister.
Therefore, Dichter examined other factors to improve Falstaff sales in California including its advertising style, tag lines, name and label characteristics, and weaker and stronger demographics. For example, blue collar and minority drinkers tended to favour the brand.
Let your ads talk to the people who are FALSTAFF drinkers – not yachtsmen – people in formal clothes, but down-to-earth people with whom the viewer can identify.
Dichter also suggested more ad spots to attract more women (“Dizzy Dean and the games miss many of the women”). Noting that an interviewee stated Falstaff chilled down particularly well – apparently not all beers did – he suggested an ad campaign based on the line:
“The beer which gets colder”.
When one thinks of the Coors Light “Made to Chill” campaign two years ago, which built on years of success with “cold” marketing, one can appreciate Dichter’s astuteness.
Dichter had doubts about the Falstaff name, noting it connoted ideas of enclosed spaces like the tavern and ale house, whereas the Californian ethos was to appreciate the open air, one way Californians defined themselves.
In a way that must have taken independence of mind to state to his client, he wrote:
WHO IS FALSTAFF?
Unlike Cholly Knick of Knickerbocker Beer or Burgie “The Little Fellow” of Burgermeister beer, FALSTAFF, connected so intimately with FALSTAFF beer, has no outstanding personality.
As a trade symbol he is amorphous, dead, lying in an Elizabethan grave when he could be lively, sparkling — the personification of FALSTAFF beer.
He made suggestions aimed, not at abandoning the name as such in California, but building an active persona for the firm trademark. He cautioned nonetheless:
However, we suggest that FALSTAFF should not be cast in the Shakespearean image, where he is an “epicurean rascal” and where he is associated with English beer, but rather in the role of a jovial, witty good fellow.
Build a new Sir John Falstaff image, “Rotound, jolly, fun loving!”
Dichter advised not to emphasize British associations, not because of any concern with ale vs. lager, but because Californians had a strong sense of their own identity, one based on the pioneering spirit and the outdoors.
An appeal based on foreign ways and styles would not motivate them, he thought.
His report suggests a similar mistrust by Californians even for the American East, of its habits, institutions, ways. Falstaff should not, therefore, expect ad campaigns successful thousands of miles away to have necessarily the same impact in California.
While the nation, and the beer business, have changed much since 1956, much has not changed. The brilliance and perceptiveness of Dichter’s work as a whole is evident from this report alone. His eminence to this day in the fields of behavioural psychology and consumer motivation is no surprise.
Note: the source of the images and quotations above is the Hagley Digital Archives as linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.