Trusting the Stable Laws of Marketing
Constantly examining beer ads over the years, I noticed literary flourishes in some ads directed to a university audience.
An extended example, perhaps the best so far, was the Utica Club pastiche of Ernest Hemingway. See my Union College and the Time of Schaefer.
And recently, I noted that Champale, a malt beverage formulated to resemble wine, was pitched to Midwest students in 1952 as preferable to a heavier “Brown October brew”. The terms nut brown ale, October brown ale, and similar have long been used in poetry to suggest a bucolic, rural atmosphere.
At the time, Trenton in New Jersey, where Champale originated, was more urbanized than Urbana-Champaign in Illinois, where the students were studying, so there is some irony in this approach, i.e., to pose an urbane vs. rustic binary.
At bottom I think Champale tried to, um, make hay of the name similarity to “Champaign”.
Another college pitch appears in annals of 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? Not really, as Labatt 50 has always been pretty pale. But the ad illustrates well the “know your audience” rule of marketing.
Mindful many Concordia readers were taking, or giving for that matter, literature classes, the copywriter drew on three poetic references to ale.
Author George Borrow’s formulation was neatly abbreviated by removing “of Englishmen”. By this device the line was made more inclusive of women.
Referring in print, too, to Englishmen in majority Francophone Quebec would not have been the best idea, especially at the time.
The fourth quotation was the most clever, a device to draw attention to the brand name. The quotation is from Robert Browning’s poem One Word More:
There they are, my fifty men and women.
The first three quotes expressly or by implication refer to men, but the fourth includes women. Women were in beer marketers’ sights since the mid-century, earlier in some cases.
I mentioned how Dr. Ernest Dichter, the renowned motivational psychologist, advised Falstaff Brewing in 1956 to craft spot ads for a female audience. In his words (hyperlink is mine):
Dizzy Dean and the games miss many of the women.
Browning’s words almost conjure a case or two of Labatt 50. Montreal grocery stores at the time stacked cases of beer in any available spot, feeding the fridge as needed. You would commonly see 24 or 48 or more “50” in their green and white cases.
For Labatt, “50” in One Word More worked both as poetic licence and allusion, but Browning meant it to designate the 50 poems of his collection, Men and Women.
One Word More was really an epilogue or, as the name suggests, afterword, but now is considered a 51st poem in the collection. It dedicated the book to his wife, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
In the 1970s, that’s how ad minds worked. They knew their knitting, their onions, and, for what counted, their beer.
This is what a 12-pack of Labatt 50 looks like today, from the website of grocery chain IGA in Quebec:
As they say, plus ça change (the puns here!) – the packaging is almost unchanged from 50 years ago.
Do beer companies still market in college media? In some places, yes, although controversy continues on the propriety, and attempts are periodically made to ban the practice.
In 2013 a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals validated such advertising in Virginia on First Amendment grounds. In that case, many students at the colleges, University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, were over 21.
The decision suggests the result may have differed for an American junior college, where most readers were 18 or under. As the lawyers say, each case must be viewed on its own merits.
I wonder if beer ads on campus today cite the greats of English Lit. Times change, and (sometimes) our literary reference points. Ad styles change too, but the fundamental rules don’t, like know your audience.
It was a rule Ernest Dichter lived by, to his clients’ benefit.
Marketers looking for poetic inspiration might pick up Hip Hops: Poems About Beer (2018), Christopher Keller (Ed.). Indeed this suggestion goes beyond the precincts of campus advertising, for which I hold no particular brief.
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