Trusting the Stable Laws of Marketing
In constantly examining historical beer ads, I have noted that some directed to a university audience exhibit literary flourishes, a nod to the environment of the target audience.
An extended example, perhaps the best I found to date, is the Utica Club pastiche of author Ernest Hemingway: See Union College and the Time of Schaefer.
And recently, I noted that Champale, an American malt liquor, was pitched to Midwest students in 1952 by comparison to a heavier, “Brown October brew”. That term, and similar ones such as nut-brown ale, were used in poetic tradition going back centuries.
In 1972 another literary pitch appeared in The Paper, the student journal of what is now Concordia University in Montreal. The October 16, 1972 issue contained this ad:
A literal example of the October brew, therefore? Not really, as Labatt 50 has always been pretty pale. But the ad illustrates well the “know your audience” rule of marketing. Mindful that many Concordians were taking or giving, for that matter, literature classes, the copywriter drew on references to ale in literature. This meant, then, English literature, basically.
The formulation from writer George Borrow was neatly abbreviated by removing his concluding words “of Englishmen”. By this device the line was made inclusive of women, or not exclusive at any rate.
With the gender balance changing significantly on campus and in the general culture then, the advertiser could not afford to offend. As well, referring to Englishmen in this context in Quebec at the time – or any time given its French majority – would not have been the best idea.
The last quotation was the most clever, a device to draw attention to the name of the beer:
There they are, my fifty men and women.
The quote, from Robert Browning’s poem One Word More, is the only one that expressly mentions women. Apart the cultural factors noted, women had been in marketers’ sights, including for beer, for decades. I mentioned earlier how Dr. Ernest Dichter, the Vienna-trained motivational psychologist, advised Falstaff Brewing in 1956 to include the female audience.
In his words (the hyperlink is mine):
Dizzy Dean and the games miss many of the women.
Browning’s words were meant to reference the 50 preceding poems in the volume, and as dedication to his (equally famous) wife, but ended serving the purpose of a clever copywriter. Advertising can work this way, there is a reason its output is termed the “creative”, although the liberties inherent in the ad game discomfit some, to be sure.
Do beer companies still market on campus? In some places they do although controversy continues on the propriety, and attempts are made periodically to ban the practice.
In 2013 a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals allowed such advertising for student media in Virginia, on First Amendment grounds. In that case, most students at the colleges in question, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, were over 21.
The result might have been different for an American junior college, where most on campus are 18 or under. As the lawyers say, each case must be judged on its own merits.
Do the campus beer ads of today cite the greats of English Lit? Somehow I don’t think so, or not invariably. Times change, as do literary reference points, as do ad styles. The fundamental rules of marketing do not, though. “Know your audience” is still fundamental.
Still, if a current beer marketer is looking for poetic inspiration, they might pick up Hip Hops: Poems About Beer (2018), Christopher Keller (Ed.).
N.B. A 12-pack of Labatt 50 as it looks today appears in the website of grocery chain IGA in Quebec. The packaging is almost unchanged from 50 years ago.
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