Beer Pitches for the Brainy

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.

Note re images: source of each image 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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