Michelob Advertising 1960s-’70s
Reviewing Michelob advertising in the 1960s and ’70s, certain themes emerge. Ad headlines often focused on the professional or upper business class, with some relaxation by the 1970s.
This reflected Michelob’s higher price. A 1975 ad for draft in Webster, NY had Michelob at $16.50 per quarter keg, $2.00 more than for Schlitz, itself $2.00 more than for Rochester, NY’s Genesee. In bottles Michelob was priced comparable to Canada’s Molson.
Headline of an early ’70s ad: “When it’s time to stop playing a round”. Tee, golfballs, and scorecard are seen in the background. Golfing was an upper echelon activity, like tennis. See sample ad in Jay Brook’s website, and his commentary.
Another: “In beer, going first class is Michelob”. So, if you flew first class and stayed in first class hotels – or aspired to – you were a Michelob prospect.
Another: “The premium is a little higher, but just consider the benefits”. This was allusive of the financial world, as a control block of shares earns a premium on realization. Michelob was a boardroom beer.
“Good taste runs in the family”. Less subtly: “You don’t usually find beer clicking glasses with martinis or scotch-on-the-rocks, but this is an exception”.
I mentioned earlier that contrary to its didactic 1930s ads, Michelob was now advising to leave beer technics to the brewers. Tagline: “Draw your own conclusions”. See sample ad at eBay.
But old habits die hard. An ad in Life magazine in 1966 could not resist listing some impressive-sounding ingredients:
20 or 30% more than … what exactly? It is not said. A footer reiterates the drink is of deluxe standard. If the reader didn’t know what to make of Hanna or Chevalier malt, they were still at the right party, if they had the brass.*
1970s ads could vary in tone. The “surprise people” group Jay Brooks discussed were less reliant on class pigeonholing.
Some ’70s ads featured everyman pastimes such as bowling (“Bowl them over”). Shooting pool or playing cards also figured. A TV commercial showed a group of friends playing cards. Message: Michelob is a valued if occasional treat for such group.
In a 1974 camping fishing commercial, Michelob again makes an unaccustomed but welcome appearance.
Still, scenes of young professionals were evergreen. This example (1977) showed stylish young achievers enjoying an orchestral “pops”.
A 1973 spot pictured a young couple on a shiny boat in dock, having trouble with the sails. An old salt passes by carrying a gunny sack, maybe a merchant sailor, maybe “crew” for a yacht owner. He stops to help.
He fixes the problem easily, and the couple crack a Michelob with him in grateful appreciation. His appreciation for the extra quality is event. The gravelly voiceover intones: Michelob is for everyone. Simple but clever spots like this were less starchy than 1960s ads.
In the ’60s and ’70s Michelob advertised in magazines read predominantly by African-Americans, such as Ebony and Jet. An example in Ebony in 1965 was no doubt intended as symbolic. Two men are shown reviewing a sales report, August A. Busch, Jr. and a black sales executive.
An ad in Jet in 1978, part of the new “Weekends” promotion, depicted couples relaxing with Michelob in a book-lined den:
From the 1950s through the ’80s, however, black advocacy groups were dismayed with Anheuser-Busch on issues of minority employment and expanding black participation in lucrative distribution.
Occasionally boycotts were threatened, and at least one was launched, by Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH. PUSH led efforts to secure a better deal from corporate America, in general. Finally a settlement was reached with Anheuser-Busch, reported a 1983 Jet story.
Among its covenants Anheuser-Busch engaged to spend $8,000,000 for advertising in minority-owned newspapers and other media.
In the later 1970s, “Weekends are made for Michelob” spots gained visibility. This campaign had its origins in a narrower, “Holidays are for Michelob” series.
In the ’80s “Weekends” morphed into the edgier, rock-tinged “Nights are made for Michelob”. The initial campaign was rated a success, as Michelob sales were growing through the ’70s.
Harvard Business Review, in a 2020 collection of advertising studies, considered the program went on too long and ended by confusing consumers. The writer notes that after 1980 sales of regular Michelob fell significantly over the next 18 years.
Surely other factors were also at play. The ceaseless fashion for imported beers was one, especially Corona, but beers from Canada, Holland, Germany and elsewhere had to take a toll.
Beer writer Michael Jackson, in his 1990s The Simon & Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer, called Mexico’s Sol a “sub-Yuppie” favourite. Sol competed with Corona, and remains hot to this day; both appealed to the nascent Michelob drinker.
The rise of craft brewing had to diminish interest in Michelob as well. The evident difference in palate impact made Michelob’s claim of European quality less credible.
In the ’70s Michelob had fended off serious competition from now-domestic Lowenbrau and other super-premiums such as Erlanger, Andeker, and Augsburger. The 1980s posed challenges it never overcame as a full-flavoured, traditional beer.
The phoenix-like revival of Michelob Ultra in the last 20 years has been a remarkable success. But to all intents and purposes Ultra is a different beer than Michelob started as. By a remarkable business and marketing inversion the brew became its opposite, and the till still rang.
This is not uncommon of course in brewing history, something similar could be said for Guinness, but throughout much of its history Michelob was touted for its rich and sustaining character, before the first light iteration came out (1970s).
The irony of upending the beer in character, while retaining the core name Michelob, is a remarkable business and marketing story, but not mine to tell here.
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*Michelob never quite gave up on the “ingredients” angle, as a 1983 ad showed in Ebony. The neat headline: “Night Harvest”.