The 1950s was perhaps not the heyday of TV beer promotion but was surely its cradle, the proving ground in which tested themes emerged that endured for years.
Billboard Magazine put beer in the spotlight for an issue in 1957. Neatly summarized were six leading themes used in brewers’ ad copy especially on TV. The piece was called, “A Copy Checklist for Beer Commercials”.
The six categories were light-not-filling, flavour and taste, traditional processes and settings (Germany big here), notable brewing locales (Milwaukee), pure water (e.g., Rocky Mountain Spring Water for Coors), and soft sell/gimmicks. The last encompassed animated characters such as Bert & Harry for Piel’s. This discussion some years ago on Beer Advocate recalled the series and its appeal.
One of the best in that genre came a few years later, the talking mugs of West End Brewing in Utica, New York (aka Matt’s Brewing). The deathless Schultz & Dooley, voiced by comic legend Jonathan Winters, live on on YouTube, and in periodic retrospectives by advertising historians.
As Billboard noted, variations were constantly being introduced. The 1960s would bring more hip ideas – take Schlitz’ “three’s a crowd, four’s a beer party”.
Still, the Billboard categories are mostly evergreen. The long-running cold-themed ads for Coors Light are emblematic. That’s Cold, featured on Channel 4 U.K. last year, illustrates it well. The “refreshingly wet” campaign of Ortlieb in Philadelphia, mentioned by Billboard, is a distant ancestor.
Some verbal formulae almost defy logical meaning. Labatt beer tasted “crystal”. Or take the “sweeping smoke” of sylvan Bavarian ski country. (It wasn’t Rauch Bier). But specifics are less important than a good feeling, or positive atmosphere. The Mad Men knew their stuff, and still do.
I’ve written before of early efforts to acquaint U.S. brewers with the latest advertising techniques. In 1914 The Western Brewer, a trade magazine, ran a multi-part series on effective use of advertising. Here is the ninth instalment, on advertising ale. The advice is far from unsophisticated, but still there is a flavour of Gibson Girls and gas lamps.
Writing only 43 years later, Billboard’s coverage seems light years ahead. More than 43 years have elapsed since 1957 – 63 to be precise – yet Billboard in 1957 speaks to 2020 much more than 1914 did to the ’50s. The tight writing, with its indented bullet points, is one index. The clarity of the lay out and contrasting bold type are notable as well. Moderne.
Some verbal formulations are passé – things aren’t “tricked out” any more, and “every man Jack” will puzzle not a few. It means, “every single one of you”.
But adjusting for that and new forms of media, the Copy Checklist fits our world pretty well. The 1957 issue, taken as a whole, is pretty contemporary in fact, especially the music coverage for which Billboard is famous.
1957 was ground zero for rock-flavoured pop culture. Much of the language and vibe apply to our world of Eilish and Drake – or the half-time Super Bowl show. Ren Grevatt reported (see pg. 27) that they were “rocking and rolling it between halves” for the Rose Bowl Game…