Beer Pitches for the Brainy

Trusting the Stable Laws of Marketing

Constantly examining historical beer ads over the years, I noted 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 in my Union College and the Time of Schaefer.

Recently, I noted that Champale, a malt liquor 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.

Note re images: the source of each image and quotation above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.



















5 thoughts on “Beer Pitches for the Brainy”

  1. Gary,
    I agree that Dichter’s insight were useful, and I believe his treatment of minority opinions was thoughtful. When you look at the beer market in the west of the 60s, only ABInbev, Miller/Coors and Pabst survive. Inbev owns two breweries in CA, Miller/Coors brews in CO, and Pabst just purchased the closed Miller plant in Irwindale CA. No matter what strategy the local players used (exception being Maier) they eventually sold out or closed. Privately held Maier purchased Lucky, then Falstaff., and finally Pabst. Pabst has survived by reducing management, advertising and brewery overhead, having contracted out all brewing for years.

    • Yes, in the sense of the long term trend, the picture was increasing concentration, abetted by the same process occurring internationally.

      But some brewers did remain family owned and regionally strong. The Lion Wilkes-Barre (not sure who owns them but independent). Of course Yuengling. Had Falstaff not been so ambitious and expanded quickly, or had it changed the name, or had it innovated with a radically new product early on, who knows what might have happened.

  2. Gary,
    The 1952 Champale ad was in Illinois where, at the time, the drinking age for men was 21 and for women 18. It’s unlikely that the age limits were strictly enforced in Champaign-Urbana at that time. The issue of beer advertising to University students in the US has been fairly well settled. Almost all states restrict drinking to 21+, and alcohol advertisers are discouraged from directing ads toward an under-age audience.
    This piece reminded me of a conundrum about Canadian beer. Lager is the clear favorite of the Anglophones of Canada but ale is stronger in Francophone territory. Can you explain this? (There isn’t even a separate word for ale in French.)
    I also liked your pieces about Ernest Dichter. I looked at his analysis for Falstaff. It shows good insight into the California market, but the key conclusion, I think, was implicit. While there were areas in which Falstaff could improve its marketing and distribution, there wasn’t much that they could do to decisively impact their sales.

    • Thanks Arnold. On Falstaff, there were some bright spots in the report: strengthen the relatively favourable minority market, women, and blue-collar with better ads, keyed to the Western ethos.

      I think though Dichter perhaps had deeper reservations about the Falstaff name than the report let on. He didn’t seem to like it for California, although he made suggestions to improve perception, via building a persona for Falstaff, the impression I got is almost a Jackie Gleason-type figure, vs. something too English. Sadly Falstaff didn’t make it under the original family, a pity as there was a lot of heritage and achievement there.

      Ale and lager in Canada, all true what you said but that was pre-craft and even apart craft, doesn’t apply today. Coors Light is big in Quebec, and the Bud line too. I think really the oldest parts of Canada held on longer to the ale heritage, which the British brought. The Maritimes had a similar allegiance.

      Ontario was always half and half, which makes sense viewing its settlement pattern. The West, most recently settled, hewed largely to lager.

      But again that is an earlier picture for Canada, ale today in the mass market has less sales, I’m quite sure, than lager in Quebec. Maybe Quebec still drinks more ale comparatively but the distinction once rigidly observed has, imo, broken down.

      This was enabled too in that even those ales became more and more like pale lager as the generations passed.

    • Arnold, wanted to add also that in one source, I don’t recall now where, the view was taken a ruinous strike in California is what really sank its prospects there. The writer pointed out that, at the time (not sure about today), employers had to negotiate and settle union demands across the industry. This was apparently unique to California. It may be this had more to do with Falstaff’s stall in California than anything else. Sometimes it is factors from left field, occult to use that term again, that have a decisive influence. Wouldn’t be the first time a union had fateful implications for a brewery, and the workers’ jobs of course.


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