Maybe Don’t Use Serial Killers in Your Craft Beer Marketing

Does human flesh make you thirsty for Pilsner? One brewery is hoping it does.

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Photo: Maksim Safaniuk (Shutterstock)

America is obsessed with true crime. Killers have permeated popular entertainment: shows like American Horror Story and The Serpent glorify their deeds, while four of the top five podcasts in the United States are about murder. Everyone from Sufjan Stevens to Selena Gomez has moved to make a buck on America’s morbid fascination with serial killers, so why not the country’s craft beer makers, too?

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That was the faulty logic behind Purcellville, Virginia, brewery Adroit Theory’s Murder Box, a mixed four-pack that celebrates Jeffrey Dahmer, Edmund Kemper, John Wayne Gacy, and Richard Ramirez. First released in March and selling for $25, the Murder Box wasn’t known much outside of Virginia until yesterday, when a handful of beer media caught wind of the bad-taste marketing ploy and called it out for what it was: reckless shitlording.

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“Don’t be coy,” reads the tweet in part. “you KNOW you love serial killers as much as we do....”

Adroit Theory opened in 2017 as a heavy metal-themed brewery with gory, macabre labels. At the time, owner Mark Osborne told the Washingtonian his ideal customer was a 38-year-old man. The beers come with Cannibal Corpse–esque names like Christmas Bloodbath and Matriphagy. Like so many metal bands before them, their homage to the Milwaukee Cannibal, Co-ed Killer, Killer Clown, and Night Stalker probably felt like a natural extension of that iconography.

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What craft brewers get wrong in their marketing

What makes a beer can different than a Netflix series is context. Without the stories of pain and destruction they caused, these killers are rendered as idols. Their real, barely obscured faces stand alone on the can, without any material connection to the Pilsner, IPA, or Russian Imperial Stout underneath the label. It’s pure shock marketing, and it ignores the reason people are attracted to true crime and horror: because it teaches us.

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Dahmer, Kemper, Gacy, and Ramirez collectively killed at least 80 people. The horrors they committed are only a generation behind us—Kemper is still alive in prison in California—and victims’ families are constantly retraumatized by the continued commodification of these killers’ likenesses. To take these figures’ legacies of violence, sanitize them, strip them of context, and turn a profit is to delegitimize the suffering they’ve caused.

Beyond these very good reasons to not use a serial killer’s face to sell any product, craft beer has all the more reason to avoid this kind of marketing. This is an industry that, exactly a year ago, experienced a large-scale reckoning where dozens of people came forward with stories of sexual misconduct and abuse. The Murder Box stands as a signal that, despite any progress made in the past year, there are still sections of the beer industry that remain untouched and unconcerned.

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By this point, we’ve analyzed the matter more than the folks at Adroit Theory likely did. Whether they decide to backpedal and pull the beer or if they decide to let it stand as yet another example of craft beer’s depressing inability to read the room remains to be seen.

 

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