A Decade of Beer Ads: The 1950’s

6 12 2009

Today will be the first of a series of posts where we will hastily derive sociological statements about American Beer Culture through beer advertisements found on YouTube.

Post-War America and its relationship to work and leisure: After WWII, the United States pulled out of the Great Depression to see the first major growth in GDP in over twenty years. For the 1950’s American, the return to leisure was important. Note in the following ads how beer is used for a symbol of wealth and free time.

In the ads above for Stag Beer, Mr. Magoo is on vacation and enjoying a session with the BBQ. Not only is he *not* working, but he is also partaking in leisure activities. No doubt the financial and emotional troubles of the Great Depression and War are behind him.

Let’s say you are home, watching the big fight on you your brand new television, “What’ll you have?!” Why, Pabst Blue Ribbon of course! At this point, television was still a relatively new invention and becoming increasingly more popular. For the first time ever, the middle class could afford TVs and it was becoming an important medium for socialization and leisure alike. Or, perhaps, you are on the links after a game of golf. How will you celebrate? A PBR of course! Note how the golfer is apparently playing and drinking alone. It points to the stoicism common to the masculinity of the 1950’s. No need for friends when you have yourself!

But nothing says “leisure time” than this Budweiser ad from the 1950’s. No annoying announcer, no complex story line. Just a beautiful woman, a beach, some smooth smooth jazz, a little bit of grilled meat and, of course, Budweiser. This ad was part of a $40 million campaign produced by Anheiser-Busch and it paid off. To this day, Budweiser is still considered “The King of Beers” in the United States. And all it required was some relaxing images and some smooth jazz.

Rheingold Brewing Company attempts to bring people to their product not by tapping into their desire for leisure or glamor, but through patriotism. In post-war America, the pride of winning the War as well as the threat of the Communists instilled a new sense of pride and patriotism. Here, Rheingold recreates images of a ticker tape parade through Times Square in New York City. But rather than war heroes or politicians, the subject of this parade is their beer!

With America on top again, there was a certain sense of destiny coming manifest. Here, we see this represented in a Ballentine ad, where a creepy stop motion animated bartender gives beer to what appears to be a lumber jack, a cowboy and a gold prospector, three symbols of the wild west. (But, man, those characters are creepy!)

Hamm’s Beer, from Minnesota, was all too happy to cash in on its reputation of being “from
the land of sky blue waters” by riffing off a fake first nation’s song. By showing a funny bear and including some tom tom drums and some cheesy, pretend chanting, Hamm’s was able to create an image of wide open space, untouched by the White Man and open to all the possibilities of the future.

We finish today by continuing this train of White Man’s relationship with the Other by looking at two more ads. One deals with race relations in the 1950’s and the other deals with gender roles.

Any one familiar with the film adaptation of “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” will recognize this common and offensive portrayal of Chinese immigrants. In a decade where the civil rights movement was just getting started, it is important to note just how race relations played out on nightly television.

Finally, we close out with this ad from Canda’s Black Label. While I suspect it is a bit tongue in cheek, we still see a strong gender binary in which the man comes home from work at the office and his wife, after working all day, brings him a beer to relax with. Merely a whistle and Mabel comes with that Black Label.

What do you think of these ads from the 1950’s? Do you think they speak to a greater truth of the way the average American man wished to see himself? Does it still? Have we made any progress since then?

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2 responses

7 12 2009
Jennie

I also noted how, in the PBR ad, the woman mouths the exact same words around :15 but doesn’t have her own voice. All you hear is the male voiceover.

7 12 2009
Katrina

I thought it was interesting that in several of the ads women are shown enjoying beer. I don’t have a TV these days, but I suspect most beer ads today show only men drinking beer.

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