A Decade of Beer Ads: The 1960’s

13 12 2009

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

America in the 1960’s: Tradition Vs. Progress-

Any one who has ever watched a documentary (or AMC’s Mad Men) knows that for much of the early 1960’s, American culture resembled the 1950’s more than what we consider the 60’s to be. For the first three years of the decade, Kennedy was in office. The middle class was still fixated with The American Dream and the rise of glamor. For the beer ads in the early part of the decade, they still resemble those in the 1950’s. In fact, on youtube, one can find an ad labeled as a “1950’s beer commercial” and find the exact same ad listed as a “1960’s beer commercial.”

This Miller High Life ad dates from the mid 1960’s (maybe ’64 or ’65) but the themes are reminiscent of those we explored last week. A man comes home to a beautiful spread for a dinner party. His wife explains how she worked all day to prepare the meal. It is obvious that this dinner party will be a glamorous affair made all the more glamorous by Miller High Life: The Champagne of Bottle Beers!

As the beer industry began recovering after the 1-2-3 punch of prohibition, the great depression, and WWII, beer companies no longer focused on the taste or loyalty of a regional brewer. Instead, beer had to be a part of a lifestyle of glamor. Here is an ad from Schlitz. A new bar is having a lack luster grand opening until the door opens to show people spilling in. The party really starts going when people–men in suits and women in dresses and pearls–start ordering the Schlitz. This ad makes going to a basement bar look like a glamorous affair.

Or take this ad from LaBatt’s as an example. Here is a man in a restaurant in a suit after work. But pouring a LaBatt’s turns it into a special affair. Magically, the flannel suit and pocket square is replaced with a smoking jacket and sexy lady. Here we start seeing a growth of sex appeal in ads. Not only that, but beer had to become something exciting something to grab the attention of the drinker. For the man in this beer ad, drinking a beer was “an adventure.”

No ad campaign made this more evident than a series of commercials from Colt 45. In these ads, a man is bored with life, despite the fact amazing things were happening all around him. Here is one where a man in a flannel suit is stuck in a sense of mid-century enui to rival that of Don Draper’s as he can not get excited in the face of scuba men, screaming couples, a sexy girl on a motorcycle or surfers. It isn’t until he is handed a glass of Colt 45 that he is able to crack a smile.

The ad above also points to a growing trend in American culture in the mid-1960’s, the spy-action thriller. With America having safely averting disaster with Cuba, and a deepening of the pre-Vietnam Cold War, political intrigue and spy thrillers were big business. Here is a Fallstaff ad that plays off this trend.

But as the 1960’s progressed, we begin to see the rise of the baby boomers. Those whow were born in the years after WWII. With the rise of a sizable population of young people with disposable income coming of age, we see beer commercials directing their ads toward a younger, hipper segment.

Just look at these handsome, wholesome kids playing baseball in the park while drinking Stroh’s beer. Gone are the cocktail parties and pressed shirts. Now we are outside, the sun is shining, and every one is active. Beer is for a young set.

Or take this ad from Blitz Weinhard. Here we see more, beautiful, active young people water skiing in the mountain lakes of the Pacific Northwest. Doesn’t that look like fun?

These last two ads, I believe really point to the beginning of a turning point for American culture. In the first ad, for Olympia Beer, you see a bunch of young peopple moving into a new apartment, they are wearing jeans and have long hair. A simple folk song plays about moving and about being young adults. Beer is no longer about luxury, it turns to sense of relaxing and free time. In a time in which youth culture began looking to other recreational drugs, beer had to change its image. Now it is about cheep, easy, and fun!

And for the PBR ad, it is about American nostalgia and hard work. As American politics were being pulled apart by Vietnam, Pabst played off its tradition as being a beer for the working man. Notice the subtlety of the ad though. This ad is integrated. A black man and a white man appear as friends and peers.

Well that is our look into the beer ads of the 1960’s. Did I miss something here? What sort of changes will we see in the 1970’s?




One response

29 05 2010

Pretty cool ads.
I personally love the new Guinness “fortune favors the bold” ads. They’re very clever and often very funny.
You should check them out.

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