Sunday, July 15, 2012

Buying Bias: Does Sponsorship Play Too Big A Role?

Yesterday I was told I'm biased because I received a free gift as part of a presentation on beer glassware at the 2012 Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis, IN. I wasn't asked if the sponsor's generosity played a role in my opinions. I was simply told that the gift had such an effect.

Mind you, no one called me out specifically by name.  The comment was made by a person who is not participating in the conference and did not take part in the presentation.  She doesn't know me and doesn't follow me. It's a person who has cultivated a rather brash personality in the beer world which serves her well, if not generally advancing the parts of the craft beer world that most of us beer writers seek to explore.

I have no need to name names because this post isn't about her, it's about the question.  When does sponsorship play too big a role and are beer writers smart enough to know the difference? 

There's a significant difference between asking the question and presuming the result. It's the difference between investigation and predetermination. It's the difference between digging deeper and being satisfied with the sound bite.

The collection of participants at the Conference is an interesting cross section of society.  There are a handful of professional writers, but there's also lawyers, accountants, security consultants, computer programmers, bottle shop owners and more.  As I've observed my fellow participants, one consistent theme has emerged.  Traditional marketing does not work with this group.

Some of the sponsors get this, some don't.  There's a wide range of craft beer sophistication among the participants, but universally they're an inquisitive group.  If anything, the main area we must work to overcome is an inherent bias against the sponsors.

While I didn't appreciate being told I was biased, I do appreciate being challenged to check my line of thinking.  Sure, the comment was intentionally antagonistic rather than naturally inquisitive, but I'm pretty good at keeping an open mind.

Oh, and the glassware is awesome.


  1. Sponsorship is inevitable. It is how we get to do such great things such as a glass comparison tastings these days. So yes, anytime you go to such an event it is going to be sponsored by some company. And people attending the event are going to mention the sponsor. Maybe even rave about the sponsor if they do a great job. Case closed on sponsorship.

    You can make up your own mind about how you feel about sponsorship but what's the point of trying to convince others that your opinion is the "right" opinion? Assumptions are killers of dialogue and idea generation.

    It goes like this-

  2. Quite true, Craft Beer Coach. It's why we write about our personal experiences here at Growler Fills - sharing the information, sights, sounds, tastes and other senses to a) let people share somewhat in the experience and b) have enough info to intelligently discuss it.

    I will tell you, for example, that I found a particular beer or brewery to be excellent, but I will never tell you that you must like it too.

    In the case of the glassware, like you, I got to experience it first hand and the experience was eyeopening. Is it the best glassware ever? I don't know, I haven't experienced them all. Was it excellent? Yes. Will I throw out all my old glassware? Certainly not, but when tasting certain beers for the first time or enjoying favorites on a special occasion, I will happily reach for it.

    The sponsor (Spiegelau) allowed me to have that experience and I have no trouble giving them a shout out. Why? Because the stuff truly made a difference when compared to standard bar pint glass.