Nine powerful beer ads

In honour of St Patrick's Day, Cossette's Glen Hunt and Benismon Byrne's Zeeshan Hussain pick some impactful brew ads.

There’s nothing more closely related to St. Patrick’s Day than beer (and, okay, the colour green and overall Irish culture).

In honour of this oh-so-brew-filled pseudo holiday, strategy curated some of the most powerful beer ads of the past two decades, asking Cossette’s chief transformational officer Glen Hunt (and guy behind Molson’s “The Rant”), and Bensimon Byrne’s group account director Zeeshan Hussain  (who led the Coors Light branding while at Draftfcb) to help us pick the best of the heart-thumping and heart-tugging ads that really seem to hit the spot. Fair warning, Guinness, the unofficial beer of St. Paddy’s day, makes numerous appearances.

“Shopping carts” (1998) 

As part of Labatt Blue’s “Out of the Blue” spot, by Ammirati Puris Lintas, Hussain points to “Shopping Cart” as one of the most iconic and memorable ads of the series, with Blur’s “Song 2″ in the background.

“Street Hockey” (1998) 

Is there anything more quintessentially Canadian than street hockey and beer? That’s the insight behind Labatt Blue’s crowd-pleasing ad from Ammirati Puris Lintas called “Street hockey.”

Also part of its “Out of the Blue” platform, the brand organized a giant impromptu grown-up game of hockey in the middle of a Toronto street. The famous hockey chant plays, the crowd gathers and suddenly it’s all very powerful.

“Surfer” (1999) 

This spot for Guinness by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, is critically acclaimed. Featuring a man and his comrades heading to the ocean to catch the giant wave, this spot starts thumping a third of the way through, and doesn’t stop. From the almost poetic call to Moby Dick or the literal images of strength in a bunch of horses stampeding across the surf, Hunt says this commercial is the epitome of power.

“The best ads are visceral,” he says. “And there’s something so powerful in the water, with the horses that can crush you, the taking on the challenge, and what it means to face your own fear and overcome insurmountable odds.”

 “Wassup” (1999)

If you don’t remember this Budweiser ad by DDB Chicago, you may have slept through 1999. Almost as iconic as the Y2K scare was overblown, “Wassup” was on the lips of every boy and man, and is still talked about 15 years later.

What makes this such a powerful ad? Hunt says it was Budweiser’s ability to take a common catch phrase (what’s up) and blow it to epic proportions so it becomes part of the vernacular.

But what’s more than that, it’s part of culture. Like “I am Canadian,” even today, if you say “wassup” (or rather, “wassuuuuuuuup”), there’s still instant recognition. And that is power.

“Michael Power” (1999-2003)

Michael Power was Saatchi & Saatchi and Guinness’ response to James Bond, Hussain says. Launched in Africa at a time well before brands started talking about branded content, the campaign featured a suave secret agent who saved the day on a mini-TV and radio spot, and later in movie-form (well before Kokanee’s The Movie Out Here).

The power (no pun intended) in this campaign was hard to nail down, Hussain says, but it was incredibly successful at rallying an entire continent around a single beer brand, with Guinness leading sales by 50%.

“The rant” (2000) 

No other beer brand has mobilized a nation quite like this one from Molson Canadian and Bensimon Byrne, says Hussain (who was not at Bensimon at the time). This ad came out at a time when patriotism wasn’t quite something we wore on our sleeves, making it a standout offering from the brewery.

It also set the tone for Canadian beer ads, he says, and while other local executions like Budweiser’s “Flash Fans” or Molson’s more recent “Beer Fridge” work might be great, they have a hard time living up to such a powerful spot.

“The big beer ad” (2005)

This commercial for Australia’s Carlton Draught by George Patterson & Partners (Y&R) certainly is big. And it certainly is about beer. And it’s definitely an ad. The crowd of what looks like hundreds or thousands of people run towards each other through a field in the shape or a person and a bottle of beer, singing that this is, as the name suggests, a big beer ad.

“The name says it all,” says Hunt. “It’s massive. They’re making fun of all big beer ads by making it bigger and beer-ier than every other ad out there.”

It’s all about entertainment and spectacle in beer, he adds. And this ad fits both those bills.

“noitulovE” (2005)

Guinness’ third appearance on this list, “Noitulove” (evolution, backwards), takes three guys back to the dawn of man… and then to the dinosaurs… then to the primordial goop that inhabited the earth before there was much else. The meaning behind this Guinness ad, by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Hunt says, is that for as long as there were creatures on this planet, we’ve hunted for something good to consume.

“It makes fun of us. We think we’re so advanced and we’re a bunch of lads, but we’re just cavemen at our core,” he adds. And why does this make his list for most powerful beer spots? “In terms of size and power, you’re going through the entire history of mankind… backwards.”

“Friendship” (2013)

“Few things give us goosebumps anymore,” says Hussain of this spot for Guinness, by BBDO NY. The recently named TED Ads Worth Spreading,  features the heart-warming tale of friends who play wheelchair basketball, only to reveal at the end that only one requires the chair. Beyond the sheer beauty in the craft and the music, this ad really resonates with people because of the relatable characters, Hussain says. These aren’t model-esque people, but everyday Joes, who are (like Guinness) made of more.