A Decade of Beer Ads: Super Bowl XLIV Edition

8 02 2010

Last night was the Super Bowl, the championship game for the National Football League, here in the United States. Apparently the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts. I don’t follow football and I haven’t watched a Super Bowl in years. But recently, the Super Bowl has been known as “The Biggest Advertising Day of the Year” as 30 second ad slots get sold for millions of dollars a piece. It is also the forth biggest beer drinking day of the year. So, by connection, this is the biggest day of the year for beer ads. And while we are only a month and a half into the 2010’s, today’s beer ads will set the pace for the decade to come.

Anheuser-Busch signed an exclusive contract with CBS (the network hosting the Super Bowl this year). Fans watching on TV and later on Hulu.com and YouTube.com only saw ads for Budweiser, Budweiser Select 55, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra. Miller and Coors have been effectively black balled from this year’s festivities. The result, Anheuser-Bush’s monopoly of beer ads were lack luster and uninspiring. While Miller and Coors took it to the streets. But first, some ads from A-B.

Here is the traditional Budweiser Clydesdale ad. Every year, Bud produces an ad dripping with nostalgia and patriotism as they trot out their old Clydesdale team of horses. It’s cheesy. It’s predictable. It’s a crowd pleaser.

Bud also plays off its Americana, can do! spirit by having town members come together and rebuild a bridge using their own bodies to allow a Budweiser delivery truck into their town.

Bud Light had a series of ads where people are distracted from their extraordinary events to party down with Bud Light. They are cute but, again, predictable. In two of the ads, Bud Light plays off the “Lost” craze. In one, people trapped on a deserted island choose beer over rescue. And on another, Franciou Chau (Lost’s Dr. Pierre Chang) plays an astronomer who discovers a giant asteroid coming toward earth. The Astronomers then react by throwing a kegger with Bud Light.

Budweiser Select 55 had the shortest ad of all the A-B ads. At a mere 15 seconds, it was half the air time of a standard ad. Perhaps a subtle nod to the fact that Bud 55 has half the calories of a classic bud. Or possibly because even A-B realizes that the extremely lite beer craze is merely that, a craze. And will die down eventually. The ad is cute. It features some rocking E.L.O. but it does not inspire excitement for, what in the end, is just another lite beer.

And while Bud Select 55 is for people who want to drink a lite beer and do nothing else, the Michelob Ultra ads are directed toward the more athletic and outdoorsy types. Set to the opening seconds of Blur’s 1997 hit Song #2, Lance Armstrong is shown running, biking, and drinking beer. A motivational-speaker-esque announcer spouts out some nonsense about how successful people make success for themselves, or something like that. Once again, A-B knows their audience and goes right for the vein.

So while Anheuser-Busch spent millions of dollars to fill the airtime with lack luster spots that were perfectly attuned to their key demographics, Miller and Coors took their millions of dollars and went to go play somewhere else, namely the Internet. At nearly $100,000 a second for airtime they saved by not being on the TV, they were able to reinvest that money into their fans.

Coors sponsored a contest to have their fans create user generated content (in other words, free ads). Fans created ads in order to win tickets to yesterday’s game. And for the past 44 days, fans of the beer could get special games and promotions through facebook and SMS messages on their phone. While the Super Bowl would not be getting Coors Light any new fans, it was an excellent opportunity to rally the community already supporting them.

Miller was able to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse by making it appear like they had purposefully opted out of the game. Their “Little Guys on the Big Game” campaign played off of Miller’s everyman/working man persona by supporting small businesses with the money they would have spent on commercial air time. By contrasting themselves to A-B’s millions of dollars and having actual small business owners give descriptions of their companies, Miller High Life becomes a beer of responsibility and tradition in a time of chaos and uncertainty.

This is why I think yesterday’s Super Bowl has set the tone for beer commercials in the next decade. With the rise of viral advertising, blogs, social networking, and user generated content, focus on paid advertising will become less and less. And focus on user experience with increase more and more. The irony of yesterday being while A-B spent millions of dollars to strong arm its competitors out of game, they had not realized that the rules of the game had changed.


A Decade of Beer Ads: The 2000’s

18 01 2010

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

The 2000’s: The Decade Where the World Could Really Go For a Beer Right About Now- Let’s face it, the 2000’s were a pretty rough time for every one. It started with a recession caused by the Internet Bubble of the ’90’s bursting. A rough election between Bush and Gore. A spy plane crashing into China almost started WWIII. 9/11. Two nasty and unpopular wars. Another rough election between Bush and Kerry. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Another recession after the worst economic melt down in eighty years. And a rough election between Obama and McCain. If there was any decade where people could have really gone for a beer, it was that one.

Luckily, beer had hit a highpoint not seen since the early 20th century. The rise in a globalized beer market meant we can drink just about any beer made just about anywhere in the world. And the rise of the American Craft Brew scene meant we did not have to rely on Budweiser, Miller and Coors.

For the first time, Boston Brewing Company–makers of Samuel Adams–was able to start advertising nationally. Here is one where they explain why they chose the name “Samuel Adams”. Notice the not too subtle use of patriotism in a post 9/11 America. Even if the patriot message was evident, it was still a lot more tasteful than some other ads.

By the end of the decade, Sam Adams would become the most popular craft brewery in America. And other micro and craft breweries would begin displaying their own ads on TV and radio.

While craft beers were beginning to make headway into the beer market and as domestics began having to compete more and more with imported competitors, the antes would have to be upped.

Keystone Light played off its traditionally subtle taste as a positive trait in relation to the new “extreme” beers coming from craft breweries and imported from other countries with their “bitter beer face” campaign. Thus, creating the bane of my existence: when people ask me “is this beer bitter?”

But for the most part, beer ads became funnier and bigger with the success of Budweiser’s frogs and “Wazzup?!” Guys.

Here are some super popular and super funny beer ads from the 2000’s. Notice how they don’t mention what the beer tastes like. Or, sometimes, even what it looks like. They do try to catch your attention with funny slogans, characters, and stories.

Bud Light’s Real Men of Genius campaign was successful because it employed the growing trend of metacommentary found in postmodern culture. By taking the subtle and benign events of everyday life and upholding it as something exciting and honorable, we find humor in the ironic and hyperbolic.

True fact: the original name of the campaign was “Real American Heroes” but in the light of 9/11 and actual American heroes, it was hard to call “Mr. Too Much Cologne Wearer” a “Real American Hero.”

And Miller Lite continued pushing the sexy beer ad so far that they made an ad so controversial it became banned and brought the beer more publicity than the ad could have ever done alone.

The ads in the 2000’s weren’t very profound. But they were funny and entertaining. And there were a lot of them. And they worked. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in America. And while other industries slumped during the decade, beer prospered. There are more breweries today than in 1999. And it does not seem to be going anywhere for a while. Anhueser-Busch and Coors have begun competing against craft brewers at their own games with Budweiser Ale and Blue Moon Belgian Wheat respectively. And, most importantly, we all had a good time. And isn’t that what beer should be all about?

A Decade of Beer Ads: The 1970’s

20 12 2009

Today is the third 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 1970’s: A Fractured Society– After the 1960’s, America was divided. Over issues like the war in Vietnam, civil rights for people of color and women, and Watergate, America was a society of different interest groups. The rise of identity politics became popular in American popular culture and with a recession in full swing, American corporations moved in quickly to exploit these tensions.

This was especially true for American beer companies. Nearly all the American breweries were wiped out during Prohibition. What survived were either regional beers or mega breweries. Beers that hoped to survive in the growing beer market of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s had to play on their different niches.

Miller tried to reign in the working class market as an affordable beer for after a hard day’s work.

Miller was the beer for hard working men who do the work no one else wants to do. “Miller Time” became synonymous with the end of a hard day’s work.

Counter those Miller ads with this one from Olympia.

Much like the hippie ad from last week, Olympia hung its hat with the younger generation. Notice the artistic feel of this ad with the natural scenes, the young people enjoying eachother’s time and the “Pet Sounds” era-Beach-Boys-inspired harmonies.

Or this series of Olympia ads:

The first ad shows an integrated group of young people doing very fun and energetic activities while a folk singer gives praises to the delicious beer. The other ads end with a note that all their bottles and cans are recyclable. Here is a case in which the company intentionally inserts itself into the budding environmentalist movement.

With the end of Vietnam in failure, America found a renewed obsession with masculinity. Here we see an Old Milwaukee Beer ad where lumber jacks compete, razz each other, and drink beer.

On the other hand, Michelob tried to cash into the women’s liberation movement by promoting a smaller (7oz.) bottle of beer to women. In this ad below, we see a young woman returning from work in a business suit. She says that she is “like a lot women” and wants a beer just right for her. In an interesting switch up to most beer ads, no men are present in this ad (although one is implied at the end). For this woman, she can have it all: a career, a man, and a beer.

Pabst created a funky ad to appeal to a more “urban” demographic. While still an integrated ad, Pabst continued to be on the forefront of having black folks in their ads.

And Schlitz calls back to one of their ads from a decade earlier by placing their beer in a disco. Schlitz is the beer for staying up all night and dancing with your friends.

While all the other beers were scrambling to create their own niches. One beer chose to unite rather than divide. After all, why compete for a small segment of the population, when you can fight to have all of it. Just look of this rainbow coalition of Americans, overlooking their differences to sing the praises of Budweiser–the King of Beers.

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?

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?