Selling Beer Like How

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…




4 thoughts on “Selling Beer Like How”

  1. Another memory. In about 1980, my family was visiting Portland, OR,. We decided to survey the dark draft beer scene, visiting some taverns offering dark domestic draft lager (Blitz, Heidelberg, Falstaff, Olympia). A friend, Stuart MacDonald, wrote an article for Zymurgy magazine that recounted the mostly unremarkable beers. A comment that included the phrase “foul stuff” was (sensibly) removed by the editors before publication. The article concluded with the observation that we could not locate the “Great Rainier” dark.

    • That’s great Arnold, thank you. A good reminder that an undifferentiated “dark” was considered hot stuff in the old days, which some of it was, but probably relatively little. There was that Prior Double Dark though, remember that one? I think it was Horlacher’s, from Penn State, later made by Schmidt in Philadelphia.

  2. Gary,
    Your review of beer advertising themes makes me nostalgic for some of the old ads that used humor. The Saranac website still sells Schultz and Dooley Steins. Rainier had some really weird commercials that featured a hunt in the mountains for the “Great Rainier” (North American Yeti). Blitz-Weinhard invented a border patrol to turn back California beer trucks at the Oregon/California border. Joe Ortlieb demonstrated the production of “Ortlieb Light” — drop a couple of ice cubes into a regular Ortlieb’s. Even Miller Light was entertaining, with the “tastes great” versus “less filling” arguments.
    Best wishes to you during our current pandemic distress. For myself, I believe I probably have enough package beer stocked to survive the isolation. I’m also looking forward to a steady stream of beeretseq posts. I’m jealous that Canada has a government that will respond rationally to the pandemic. I’m also jealous of your recent trip to Nice, France. A few years ago, my wife and I spent a couple of very enjoyable October days in Nice and Vence on a driving tour of southern France and northern Italy.

    • Thanks Arnold, that’s a great run down of some wacky old time ads! Interesting about the ice cube Ortlieb. In my post just completed on the French blending manual of 1871, the author discusses use of water to blend with beer when appropriate. I myself, as you may recall from earlier posts, have blended for years, and sometimes add water to take down the strength of beer a bit.

      I actually have in my “stockpile” of potential postings some material on a Rainier campaign of that era, I’ll review it and put it up soon I think.

      Keep well in this time of travail. It’s not easy for governments to cope, we are doing reasonably well here but no place in the world seems to know how quite to handle it, and I hope the reassuring information information coming out of China, say, is actually true.

      In retrospect we feel fortunate to have completed and got back from that trip when we did, but it was a winner. Glad you saw the place.

      Americans seem to have always been attracted then, I’ll post an off-beat example of that too, soon – with a (small) brewery connection.



Leave a Reply to Arnold Moodenbaugh Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: