Anheuser-Busch's New Initiative: Improving Diversity In Beer Stock Photos

Hunting for decent beer stock photography is, for me, one of the most frustrating parts of writing about beer. Most of the available beer photos on stock sites look like they came from a mid-'80s encyclopedia entry on Bavaria: pretzels, leiderhosen, frosty mugs, blonde women with their chests out. I'll finally find a nicely lit, well-composed image, only to see that the beer glass is dirty. Or the bartender is pouring the beer improperly. Or I can't find a dark beer poured into anything except a pint glass. And if I want women or racial minorities in the shot? That's an extra hurdle.

I'm not the only one who's noticed the dearth of high-quality beer stock photos. Today, Anheuser-Busch tells The Takeout it has launched (as part of its ongoing Elevate initiative) two collections of downloadable stock photography featuring properly served beer, diverse consumers and brewers, myriad beer styles, and contemporary settings—for free. Anheuser-Busch says the images will be available royalty-free through photo sites Pexels and Unsplash, and feature four of the craft breweries now owned by Anheuser-Busch: Four Peaks in Tempe, Arizona; 10 Barrel in Bend, Oregon; Karbach in Houston; and Veza Sur in Miami.

"You might think 'Oh, its just stock photos, they're generic,' but people see these so often on Twitter, Instagram, blogs, even magazines," Ashley Knotek, digital marketing manager at 10 Barrel Brewing, tells me. "It's important we take the time to represent beer in the best way possible."

Say what you will about whether Anheuser-Busch and "Big Beer" are good for American beer overall, but it's hard to argue against this as a positive resource for an industry that's struggled to shake its image as a club for bearded white dudes. In 2017, 39 percent of beer drinkers identified as female, according to Mintel's Beer and Craft Beer report, while 32 percent identify as African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or otherwise non-white according to Anheuser-Busch market research. That's a huge chunk of beer drinkers who weren't typically finding themselves represented in mainstream beer photography, marketing materials, and design. And it's not because photo service users were indifferent: Pexels says diversity-related searches increased increased by 180 percent from 2016 to 2017.

"From the freelance graphic designer to our partner, WordPress, we've received a tremendous outpouring of support and demand to increase our photo library and offer more diversity," says Monica Silvestre, Pexels' head of community. "Especially related to images that would traditionally show a white male–in the workplace, leading a meeting, coaching little league, and yes, even drinking a beer at a bar."

A scroll through Anheuser-Busch's image galleries on Pexel and Unsplash shows multiracial friend groups, women brewing and serving beer, and various styles and colors of beer poured into (hallelujah!) properly shaped and clean glasses. The settings also look more contemporary, with less oompah-band-beer-garden vibes and more friends-chilling-at-a-taproom.

"I think the coolest part of this project is to shed light on all the types of brewers and beer drinkers," Knotek says. "I also think it's an opportunity to just make the industry standard for beer photo quality higher; there's room for that to happen."

So what's in it for beer giant A-B? When consumers see people like themselves reflected in these beer images, hey, many of those images also happen to contain Four Peaks tap handles, and Veza Sur glassware, and Karbach umbrellas, and 10 Barrel t-shirts. Quietly, it aligns Anheuser-Busch's craft brands with young, diverse drinkers who are going to make up larger and larger portions of the beer-consuming market in the coming decades.

It's subtle, it's savvy, and it's a breath of fresh air as far as I'm concerned. I look forward to spending more time learning, talking, and writing about beer, and less time searching for decent photos of it.