This was one of the least surprising developments in the local beer industry. Moa started out cloaked in faux-exclusivity, long before they leapt into bed with arch-brandwanker Geoff Ross (of 42 Below vodka fame). He, and much of his old team, integrated pretty seamlessly with the company’s image-first approach, gave it a polish-and-makeover, and have set about making their money. Though not by selling beer, as such.1 These guys — and they are guys — don’t lower themselves to anything so unfashionable as that. They’re in the business of selling businesses and of building brands rather than inherently-worthy products.
So here they are launching their IPO. If it all goes as planned, they’ll raise ~$15M, while retaining control for everyone who’s already involved in ownership and management. Which is unremarkable, of course, but the really predictable part — depressingly so, in fact — is the tone of the document itself. It is needlessly, aggressively, and pointlessly gendered and bursting with wank. You wonder how they didn’t have second thoughts at some point before sending it off to the printers, but they’ve got such an ‘impressive’ record of homophobia, misogyny and tired marketing blather that they must just mutter this shit in their sleep, these days.
The IPO document is explicitly aimed at men, and Geoff Ross also can’t seem to manage to speak in gender-neutral terms to the press. They seem to entirely dismiss half the population, and completely discount the idea that women might a) drink their beer, b) want to invest in their company, or c) exist as anything other than ornament for shallow motherfuckers in expensive suits.
The subtitle of the whole document is “Your Guide to Owning a Brewery and Other Tips for Modern Manhood”, and the gendered references flow freely: “The relationship men form with beer is staunch” and their “aspiring drinkers” are “those in the super-premium end of modern manhood” (p48). The cut-away sections on angling, tailoring and pistol duels (of all things), are all targeted solely at “gentlemen”, and the one giving ‘advice’ on opening doors for other people is pitched entirely at men and the subject of the door-opening is always female, but for one throwaway homophobic jab. The only mention of women as consumers of their products is in the section on cider (p91), which — for anyone actually involved in the industry, or who bothers to attend a beer festival or go to a beer bar — is so ludiciously laughable and out of date that it begins to explain why they retreated to an aesthetic from decades ago.
Geoff Ross explicitly notes the connection to Mad Men as a reference that informed the ‘look’ of the document. But it’s all so hopelessly contrived and fake. Surely, if you are trying to be Don Draper, you are necessarily failing to be Don Draper.2 And if you missed the dark undertones of the actual series — that a life of form over substance is hollow and bleak, and that basically all the promises of the vaunted ‘Golden Age of Advertising’ were always complete bullshit — then you really should pay some fucking attention. Like so many others, they completely fail to understand the basic difference between sexy and sexist. And it’s so desperately artificial that they don’t come across with any confidence or swagger; the Suits just look like a tragically insecure bunch.
All they can brag about is that their IPO document has ads in it, and might be the first to do so — as if anyone could be fucked raising their hands for a single clap to that milestone, if it indeed is one.3 The advertisers they’ve chosen ring as hollow as the rest of it: Aston Martin, Working Style, Ecoya — precisely the same brand-first, style-over-substance conspicuous consumption horseshit that Moa are transforming otherwise-often-worthy beer into. It’s all just part of the con, but I can never tell if the Moa executives are just trying to trick their potential customers and investors or if they’ve fallen into the sad trap of fooling themselves.
The incessant drone is that they make “super-premium” beer, a term they invented for themselves and invoke nauseatingly often.4 But they never even commit to their points of difference. The interestingly unique beer once universally-known as Moa ‘Original’ was moved off the front line and a blander, more mainstream-friendly pale lager was re-named ‘Original’ in its place — to better hoodwink the Heineken Drinker, one assumes. Bottle-conditioning, which they misleadingly associate with wine-making and falsely portray as ‘unique’, isn’t used on as many bottle sizes or varieties as it initially was. Their hefty 375ml bottles were once touted as a unique feature, but Moa recently took them out of circulation for another whole ‘tier’ of their range to save a fraction of cash per unit. And there’s something dreadfully uncomfortable about presenting a ‘super-premium’ beer being drunk from the bottle by their executives (and one of the models)5 in the IPO. These guys are the very definition of being ‘all hat, no cattle’ — and it’s not even a very nice hat, on closer inspection; it’s a gaudy, blinged-up knockoff.
The figures and discussions of money are at least stale enough to not stink of the wank that pervades the rest of the document, and feature some interesting data. Right now, Moa owe one million dollars cash to the BNZ (p110). That’s basically their overdraft, they’ve maxed it out, and they plan to use a chunk of the IPO just to pay it back — so one out of every fifteen average new investors can feel the glow of pride of merely being used to service existing debt. Another one from each hypothetical fifteen are being used purely to pay the damn-near-innumerable fees and bits of gravy-taking that launching something like this entails. The financials are a little opaque, to me, but were the subject of heaping quantities of derision and scorn from people I know who know better. They’re not pretty, certainly; Moa are running a stonking great big seven-figure loss, and have no real plan to do otherwise for a long while yet.
And for all they like to crow about having a small, nimble team with the ability to leverage low-cost high-result marketing (and all that guff), they’re looking to plow more than a million bucks a year into that department (p109), and plan to ape the boring old strategy of handing over dirty-great wodges of cash to bars to just buy branding and pouring rights outright.6 But worse than that, they’re utterly fucking shameless about their history of ginning up (pseudo-)controversy, duping the media into giving them free coverage7 — and seem happy to signal that such nonsense, even of the blatantly race-baiting or pathetically-bigoted kinds, will continue. Sunil Unka, the Marketing Manager, is quoted (p81) as having a “What’s the worst that can happen?” mantra when justifying his tactics.
But there’s just the merest hint of hope that this shit has finally outstayed its welcome; the blow-back online has been pure joy to watch. The lampoonings of their rather desperate “moments of manhood” language has, in particular, produced gold. Hadyn Green’s excellent piece on Public Address yesterday was circulated deservedly widely, Emma Hart posted an insightful follow-up as I was writing this, and the mainstream press made (fairly gentle) mention of the critical response — though Geoff Ross didn’t think (or feel obliged) to do anything other than double-down on their needlessly and explicitly gendered approach.
For the last day or so, certainly, Moa have been unusually quiet on channels where they’re usually chatty and boastful.9 Indeed, the only communication I’ve seen from anyone at all related to their camp was intemperate criticism of my writing style by someone personally connected to the Moa executive (but not professionally involved with the company).10 They are, it’s fair to say, hardly being their defiant and proud selves. Maybe, just goddamn maybe, there are conversations going on about whether they’ve fucked up this time. Honestly, though, I doubt it. These guys seem committed to this bullshit; it is, in Geoff Ross’ wank-tastic phrase11 “their vernacular, their mentality”.
I just can’t join in the (heartwarmingly relatively faint) chorus of “it’s not to my taste, but more power to them”. To employ the obvious metaphor — rather than, you know, spending thousands of dollars on suits, cigars, and a photoshoot only to have the attempted aesthetic misfire and make me look like a complete poser — I’m looking forward to this Moa going as extinct as its namesake. Go read about them, instead. They’re vastly more worthy of your time.
Postscript, 14 October, 9:05pm: This piece has just attracted a rather vile and hateful comment. I’m in two minds about whether to leave it up or delete it (for its tone and bigoted language, not for merely ‘disagreeing’ with me) but am leaving it up for now. The advice often given on the internet is “don’t read the comments”, lest you see the level to which some people sink to and how far civilisation has yet to go. Reader discretion is therefore strongly advised, but I think the comment is illustrative of an attitude that still exists in greater frequency than we might hope.
1: Absolutely mandatory caveat: the guy who actually does make the beer — Dave Nicholls; no matter how much their ‘brand story’ relies on Josh Scott being cast as the ‘executive brewer’ (whatever that might even be), Dave’s the actual brewer — is talented and a genuinely awesome dude. He makes some great beers (and plenty that aren’t to my personal tastes, not that that matters a damn), and has had more than a few sensible things to say about the problem of excessive marketing. He’s not the rat-pack type that the IPO document has him dressed up as — unlike every other Moa staffer I’ve met.
2: Thanks to George for the pop-culture consult on this one. I’m told that the sharper reference is to point out that the Moa Suits have just made themselves all into Pete Campbell.
3: And it’s hardly inkeeping with the rules on IPO documents being concise and limited into their use of brand imagery and irrelevancies, as the NBR noted.
4: At least twenty times in the IPO document, and jarringly often in the “business description” section.
5: Of all the images from the IPO photoshoot, just one of the Moa beers appears in a glass — with the model from the Ashtray Photo, as she perches on the edge of a table (p46). She swigs from the bottle in another shot, however (p16).
6: Ignoring their own Tip No. 10: “You can’t become a leader by following someone else. Most businesses are convinced this is not true.” Instead, they’re copying tactics from the Mainstream Big Two, and marketing themselves just like 42 Below did. Yawn. Where’s that much-vaunted ‘creativity’?
7: The write-up on Moa ‘Breakfast’ (p48) naturally fails to mention that their ‘trailblazing’ product was just a re-naming of an existing beer, ‘Harvest’. The “launch” was transparently a scam, and way too many people fell for it.
8: The setup turns out to be, presumably intentionally, a reference to a cigar ad of the Mad Men / Golden Age era. Which, of course, amounts to no kind of excuse. And that’s not some runaway photoshoot director’s inappropriate imagery; the General Manager himself posed for that.
9: Maybe they — finally — took the advice of their epically-smug Tips, No. 6 of which advises that you close your social media accounts and pre-emptively shut the fuck up (p15).
10: This section — and the original contents of this footnote — have been provisionally edited, after a discussion with the person involved. A barb about the idiosyncratic overuse of italics in my ‘Hello again’ post was published on Twitter, but during the writing of this piece (which was, after all, foreshadowed in the previous), its author silently deleted it. The text of this section initially named them and explained their close (but undeclared) connection to the Moa executive. Soon after the publication of this post, that person contacted me directly, asking that I delete the reference. Since the post was already ‘out there’, I offered instead to include their explanation in this footnote, but they pleaded extenuating circumstances, and (against my usual stickler nature on matters editorial) I’ve anonymised the reference. It feels weird to be magnanimous toward the Moa camp, broadly defined, but these things happen; never be afraid to try new things.
11: He seems unaware of how dated the reference to Shed 5 sounds; it’s hardly the prestigious or fashionable venue it once was (not that I give a fuck about that, but he clearly does). Also, they don’t serve Moa. Indeed, 85% of their beer list is just mass-market lager.