cmaukonen's picture

    Lite Beer and the Segmentation of America

    I am not a beer drinker. An neither were any of my parents. My father only really liked one brand in fact and rarely drink that much. I think this is a plus since Finnish people are more likely to go overboard on alcohol than most. I did find this analysis by Kevin Horrigan in the Stl Today site on how we had a become segmented society all thanks to - not Wall Street - but Madison Av. That's right the marketing people.

    Before there was Lite Beer, there was just beer. There were a lot of different brands, but it was mostly the same: 12-ounce cans of lager or pilsner containing roughly 150 calories. You had to go far out of your way to find something different, like a Heineken or a Guinness.
    One nation, one beer. Everyone watched the same TV shows and got their news from (you should pardon the expression) mainstream sources. There were rich people, sure, but they hadn't yet begun to suck the marrow out of the middle class. The Vietnam War had been fought by enlisted men and draftees alike. Then came Lite Beer from Miller, test marketed in Springfield, San Diego and Knoxville, Tenn. It was successful enough that Miller hired the advertising firm McCann-Erickson Worldwide to help roll it out nationwide. Pretty soon the "Tastes Great, Less Filling" campaign was everywhere. America's common culture was doomed. First came more light beers. And dark beers. And ice beers. And beer with fruit in it. The natural reaction to all of this terrible beer was craft beers and microbrews. People no longer listened to rock music. They listened to soft rock, classic rock, metal, funk, punk, alternative rock, Christian rock. They listened to classic country and new country and alt country. They listened to R&B and urban and soul and hip-hop and rap.

    Along with talk radio and specialty cable channels and focused news and on and on. We have become a nation of focus groups. It's no longer "How does it play in Peoria" but "How does it play in a particular suburb of Peoria, Atlanta, Indianapolis......". With data mining of all you do on the internet it has become more so and as Sam Smith points out this has permeated our politics as well. Quoting Sally Quinn of the Washington Post.

    On the way home … I suddenly realized that this grotesque event signaled the end of power as we have known it. That dinner — which seemed to have more celebrities, clients and advertisers than journalists and politicians — was the tipping point.
    Power in Washington used to be centered on the White House, the Congress, the Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and the journalists. Today, all of those groups depend on money for their very existence. The real power lies with the lobbyists, the money-raisers, the super PACs, the bundlers, the corporations and rich people.
    That politicians have become nothing more than something to market. Like Lite Beer and Donuts and iPods. That the era of the states man and wise old men of Washington such as Clark Cliffard have been replaced by sound bites and celebrities.

    These same bundlers that Sally refers to are the ones who sliced and diced corporate America and sold if off as pieces parts to the highest bidder on the Wall Street equivalent of ebay. There was a time when most people were on more or less the same page. Now we are simply adds in some niche magazine to be exploited. With our politicos merely hollow manikins marketed to us depending on the group involved.

    Appearing as one icon to one group and a different icon to another.

    Out causes and concerns also neatly managed and marketed as well. Be they environmental, religious, social, economic or political. Each with their own focus group. More consumer than a culture. A Walmart nation with cheesy products and cheesy politicians. Willy Lomans in expensive suits.

    Consumption! It’s the new national pastime. Fuck baseball, it’s consumption. The only true lasting American value that’s left – buying things! People spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need – MONEY THEY DON’T HAVE ON THINGS THEY DON’T NEED – so they can max out their credit cards and spend the rest of their lives paying 18% interest on something that cost 12.50! And they didn’t like it when they got it home anyway! - George Carlin

    And we have bought it hook, line and sinker and have been sold up the river in the process.


    There is something in what he is throwing out there, but one passage sticks out to me:

    People no longer listened to rock music. They listened to soft rock, classic rock, metal, funk, punk, alternative rock, Christian rock. They listened to classic country and new country and alt country. They listened to R&B and urban and soul and hip-hop and rap.

    As if everyone was listening to just rock at one point.  I'm sure his particular group was listening to rock, just as mine was when I was growing up (except for those who were into pop).  But there others listening to country, R&B, classical, and so on. And there even those who listened to it all, including the "rock" musicians who were being influenced by the musicians in the past. With this passage he does seem to come across more as "remember when us white kids were just listening to rock."

    Well when I was young I listened to what the current TOP 40 station played. I and no one I knew at the time differentiated between what was on the radio. I had no idea at the time that Floyd Cramer  was a country artists or that Gene Chandler was way bigger on the R&B charts.

    It just wasn't important at the time.

    A Walmart nation with cheesy products and cheesy politicians.

    This part of your arguments stands out as contrary to the rest of your essay, as Walmart is the antithesis of micro marketing, it harkens back to the "one nation, one beer" world. Far from offering variety of product and a variety of price points, they offer the cheapest they can get and get it even cheaper by ordering it in mass quantities in bland enough taste to sell in mass quantities.  When I've ventured into a Walmart, I'm struck by a dejas vus of shopping as a kid with my mother in the 60's, when home decoration was offered only in beige, ecru and brown, dishes were blue and white, glass items were clear, furniture was "colonial,"  bras and men's shirts were only white (unless they were blue collar, in which case they were grey, not blue,) women's shoes had only one style of toe, and there was only white bread and one kind of cheese, only one kind of seed per vegetable, only one kind of shovel....

    I tend to think our generation are the anomaly.  There was more variety before us and more will follow us.  

    We were so homogenized by a mass media and Madison Avenue learning their businesses.  That and the post-WW2 prosperity.   Being the last country standing in a world that needed rebuilding, we were practically the only one with jobs and incomes they could market to.

    As a kid growing up in NYC, I remember the first commercials for a Lite Beer were for a brand called Gablinger's.  Their TV commercials featured actor Farley Granger.  Gablinger's didn't catch on, but Miller bought the company and the process for making Lite Beer and soon came out with Miller Lite.

    It's an interesting thought that Madison Avenue, by so successfully marketing to our desires, has actually played right into the notion that we are a country of 308 individual bunkers, rather than a nation devoted to pursuing any kind of  common good. .By getting us to focus solely on the things that make us unique, our desires, these great manipulators have encouraged us to stop thinking about all the lofty, esoteric things that unite us as a country and think only of ourselves and what we want to buy for ourselves.

    Poor Sally, she finally noticed when the guys with the most money changed. She was bought before, she just somehow forgot or didn notice. how quaint.

    As far as rock 'n roll, yes, it used to be possible to listen to everything under the same umbrella. Watching Monterrey or Woodstock is amazing - from Richie Havens to Sha-na-na to Wilson Pickett to the Who to Ravi Shankar. Grand Funk doing "Some Kind of Wonderful"? no one even noticed. Ravi these days would be consigned to "ethnic" or "world music". Yes, there was a difference between top 40 stations and alternate, mainly just that alternate was more diverse & played longer songs (remember "King Biscuit Flower Hour" playing various concerts out of England Sunday nights). Sure, there were the farther ends for mainstream, such as Soul Train favs wouldn't likely make top 40 like the Supremes or Michael Jackson, but yes, it was much more homogenous - you just turned on the radio for "music", and as long as it wasn't Ray Conniff or Perry Como, you listened.

    (the story of Tony Bennett's comeback is pretty inspiring though - his kid failed in a rock band, so spent his time reviving Tony's attraction to off-audiences. Somewhat similar with Tom Jones' cross-over appeal. But it's a real specialized grind to do that, vs. stick in a mellow groove like Elton John, attracting his new audience through bad animated movies for kids.)

    Some of this may old folks nostalgia. White teens knew the Temptations, Four Tops and Supremes. Black teens knew Glenn Campbell and Rare Earth. Today's white teens know Beyonce and Jay-Z. Today's black teens know Pink and Eminem. Young whites in the 1940's discovered jazz. Pat Boone discovered Fats Domino in the 1950's.

    Back in the day, black news junkies thought Sally Quinn was a joke. Today Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman fill Quinn's role as privileged, but predictable (and useless) print pundit.



    The scene from Crooklyn where they're dancing to Partridge Family is a crack-up.

    Nevertheless, I think you're missing the *diversity* of music people were listening to. Not just roots reggae + .....

    I think we'd be surprised by the number of black girls who know Justin Bieber songs and the number of white girls who know L'il Wayne. I agree, country and jazz may be less popular than in the past. 

    I think radio has become less important. The iPod generation may have a more diverse playlist than we think. Most radio music is serving as background noise rather than a dedicated listening source.

    Runs the gamut of variety from A all the way to B.

    Most heavily marketed shit out there, and I'd be surprised?

    Once upon a time there was Body Count, Living Color, Tackhead, Fishbone, Public Enemy, Michael Jackson with Slash, Lee Scratch Perry, Bobby McFerrin, Lenny Kravitz, Run DMC, Tracy Chapman, African Head Charge, Seal, Youssou N'Dour, George Clinton, Bad Brains, Salt-N-Pepa, Prince, Robert Cray, as some examples of black acts.

    Now we're stuck trying to figure out the difference between Rihanna, Pink, Lady Gaga & Anastasia. Good luck.

    [oh yeah, occasionally there's still a Carolina Chocolate Drops to come along - but not on radio]

    The Carolina Chocolate Drops played in the soundtrack for the "Great Debaters" and won a Grammy. Artists like Esperanza Spalding are pushing the envelope today. Current choices are as commercial or as cutting edge as the "Good Old Days".

    It is just as likely that the aged are not keeping up with what youth today are following out of view of the adults. Jackson, Slash, Tracy Chapman, Seal, Bobby McFerrin, Run DMC, George Clinton, Prince, George Clinton Parliament/Funkadelics and even Fishbone received commercial pushes with MTV airtime after Michael Jackson and Rick James forced black artists onto the network.

    MTV was the gold standard for homogenized music prior to the Jackson/James protest. Homogeneity was the rule for some of the "Golden Era".

    Part of the problem was that starting in the late 1960s program mangers started calling the shots at the radio stations and the play lists got narrower and narrower.

    A lot of artists did not get airplay except on some of the bigger college stations.

    Then radio became very segmented.

    But if the song was too long even in the early days, it rarely got played. 3:05 as they say.

    There are more ways to opt out of the homogenized news channels, music channels and commercial bombardment than we had in the past. 

    We have learned that the homogenized news that we all accepted in the past, was not necessarily the truth. We can celebrate that freedom.

    The Grammys are fighting music segmentation by limiting competitive categories. Of course if your musical effort just got placed in a homogenized "ethnic" or combined classical music category, you may not see that change as progress.

    I think you're overdramatizing - MTV launched Aug 1, 1981, and Billie Jean launched on MTV Mar 2, 1983 and then it was pretty open - even the RunDMC/Aerosmith breakthrough collaboration was 1986 - this isn't like years of the Negro baseball leagues, even if it took a bit of pressure to get MTV to expand their format. 1 1/2 years of the "Golden Era"?

    (PS - Bowie & other white artists also publicly questioned the "black out".)

    While I may not know as many obscure black bands these days, the publicly mainstream available ones are much more homogenous than they were in the 60's or 90's. Funny with all this choice the digital age supposedly brings.

    Snoop Dogg performs with the Gorillaz. 

    Beyonce performs with Justin Timberlake. 

    It's all packaged.

    I do agree that homogenization has occurred with regard to rap music. You are more likely to get positive references to drug use in rap than in pop.

    I still wonder if the college crowd is as driven by the Top 40 on the radio as generations past. Musicians can build a fan base on YouTube, etc. There are more options.

    If the argument is that radio play is limited, I agree. Even satellite radio tends to play the same tunes repeatedly, even on the Jazz channels. 

    I think a larger percentage of current listeners are taking musical cues from different sources that fly under the radar.


    You make a number of good points. Current listeners doubtfully consume radio in any numbers - they either use iTunes or torrents, and have it on portable device. Radio serves either the politically obsessed to listen to talk radio, or those in public spaces with the need to have something playing all day - and those are the mindless, recurring playlists, with about 5 major genres to choose from & nothing more. (have your 80's retro? your 60's retro? your midnight storm R&B soft listening?....)

    Perhaps the music homogenization is the music industry figuring out what a large group of their dedicated customers want and delivering that product. Taking on an artist who doesn't fit the mold is high risk. They don't keep track of the people who have abandoned the typical formats.

    Newspapers and television news face a consumer collapse. The decline may not have been as much about corporate entities dividing the market as consumers tiring of a packaged news product. 

    Everyone watching the same news may have felt like we were sharing the same information, but it caused us to be blind to the anger brewing in white militia groups and surprise when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. I have pointed out previously that the main stream media was completely blind to the Million Man March until they learned that buses were rolling towards DC.

    Were we segmented but just oblivious before?


    I only listen to radio in the car (and on Wednesdays at 11:05 AM) and that is either WTMD an Album Alternative station, NPR or whatever I can pull in when I'm on the highway. I get a lot of music from people's links to youtube. I found Baltimore band Wye Oak through a guy who blogs from LA.

    I think you are the "under the radar" listener that I envision. People are searching out their own group of personal entertainers. I don't think that the new listening pattern is homogenized.

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