Beer marketers leave no stone unturned

So they want a beer campaign. Something fresh. Catchy. Friendly. Approachable. Distinctive. Memorable. Well, forget it, pal, because it's been done a hundred times before. There are only so many beer campaigns, only so many points of departure and, by 1953, they had all been done at least once.

So they want a beer campaign. Something fresh. Catchy. Friendly. Approachable. Distinctive. Memorable. Well, forget it, pal, because it’s been done a hundred times before. There are only so many beer campaigns, only so many points of departure and, by 1953, they had all been done at least once.

There are beer campaigns that are about the cool, sexy, partying people that drink it, the ones you suddenly start to feel like after nine beers.

There are beer campaigns about the place the beer is from. Usually about the terrific water in the place the beer is from, actually. Although like airlines, there are stereotypically good places and better places for beer to be from.

There was a famous beer for the end of the working day. There is, or was, at least, one beer for the nighttime. There’s probably a position open for a bracing morning beer, as well.

Germany, England and Czechoslovakia used to be good places for beer to start off. Now Japan, Mexico and China are good places, but possibly only within 50 yards of a Japanese, Mexican or Chinese restaurant. Which is pretty much everywhere these days anyway, at least downtown.

Australia used to be a good place for a beer to come from, but you don’t hear as much about it anymore. Or the opera house. Or Paul Hogan. Canada is a good place for beer to come from, especially if you’re not here in Canada.

The best commercial for Canadian beer ever done was a skit on the Ed Sullivan show performed by Wayne and Schuster, in which a guy orders an American beer from the bartender, and the guy next to him says he’ll have something stronger than American beer: gimmie a glass of Canadian water.

There are beers that, if there is, oh, an iguana on the label, will feature an iguana in the advertising. This is the strategy used in third-world countries to help the illiterate and ill-informed identify contending political parties. Same thing works with the dazed and confused at two in the morning.

There are beer campaigns that develop continuing central characters to win our trust and affection. These are often cartoons or loveable goofs.

There are beers that pander to our sense of patriotism. This used to work for car advertising, but only in Windsor and Oshawa. There was an Oregon beer that was positioned as the beer from here.

There was a beer that advertised itself as the favourite beer of New York’s rich, colourful mosaic of ethnic minorities, who all disliked each other so much they all stopped buying the stuff because those other dumb bastards drank it in the ads.

There was a beer that chose to advertise ownership of a specific Neo-Epicurean Philosophical position, being that you only go around once in this life, so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you can get. It is said this campaign helped drive a monster brand down to the status of a cult beer in certain seriously gay bars in some San Francisco neighbourhoods.

Which brings me to my point. Yes, Sleeman, formerly the beer you drank because of a son’s resurrection of a long-dead brewmaster grandfather’s family recipe, or some such blather (this is a variation on the Our brewmaster is a bigger quality monomaniac than your brewmaster gambit) and incidentally the one with no label, has been reborn as the beer with nothing to hide. Like, you just see right into the beer. Get it?

You knew that sooner or later, some creative would come along who just couldn’t leave the see-through bottle alone. Dump granddad, Sleeman is now for the Thou-Shalt-Not-Prevaricate crowd. The tell-it-like-it-is people.

But who are they, I hear you ask? On radio, it’s the doorknob who tells the customs inspector everything he’s smuggling through customs without being asked. The dud blind-dinner-date couple who break up before the waiter brings the appetizer. You want to grow up to be these people? Go get arrested. Go home and watch TV. Yeah but it’s supposed to be funny. Yeah, so’s the guy who falls down a manhole.

Odder even is the newspaper ad. Under the headline Do you have nothing to hide, a series of ads feature ‘five lucky finalists’ telling rambling parables of random life experiences that may or may not have to do with courage, or honesty, or good luck, or bad manners. The one thing they have in common is that they all have nothing to do with beer!

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Barry Base creates advertising campaigns for a living. He creates this column for fun, and to test the unproven theory that clients who find the latter amusing may also find the former to their liking. Barry can be reached at the Toronto office of Barry Base & Partners, (416) 924-5533; fax (416) 960-5255.