… and Madison Avenue
One might think a news item with phrases like “fomenting a beer revolution” and “revolt against ‘bland'” originated in the 1990s, or ’80s.
Actually it was 1960.
The story was about Carlsberg, the famous Danish lager. While known and admired by American connoisseurs then, it did not sell large quantities in the U.S. It was not a Heineken – “the” name in imported beer – but had ambitions to be.*
Carlsberg hired a New York ad agency to ramp up sales. The Mad Men came up with the “quaffmanship” campaign. Robert Alden of the New York Times got the story in May 1960.
Quaffmanship was the brainchild of Martin Solow, a Manhattan ad executive. The term was clever, suggesting both discrimination in taste and quantity imbibing.
If brewers love nothing else, it’s moving product in quantity, whatever demographic they target.
There was perhaps also a subliminal appeal to the idea of craftsmanship, the sound of “quaffmanship” almost suggests it. Which rather brings matters up to date.
The campaign had launched earlier and would now intensify. A run of magazine ads was planned, with radio spots on classical music and other “quality” stations.
The 1960s perfected the use of vague, one-liner ads focused on lifestyle. But different thinkers there always were, and Solow was one, evidently.
The Carlsberg campaign relied on medium- and long-form narrative, irony-tinged yet stressing flavour and tradition. Art work was a strong point. Some ads lampooned the typeface and layouts found in old books.
A 1961 ad at eBay is illustrative, profiling the “Gourmet Quaffer”. The Quaffer enjoyed Carlsberg alone or “with a regiment”. Dumas the Elder is quoted, Latin phrases appear, the whole bit.
In the end humour subverts an excess formality. The message was, Carlsberg is not everyman’s drink, but anyone reading, with the price of a bottle, is welcome to try.
Solow’s perception that flavour had departed the American beer palate was echoed 20 years later by an emerging squad of craft brewers. (In time it became, indeed, a regiment, and army).
Ostensibly there was little in Martin Solow’s background to suggest the offbeat, or counter-cultural. Born in 1920, after college he spent the war years in the U.S. Army.
Later he edited labour journals and worked for the magazine The Nation before turning mid-career to the ad business. His obituary in the New York Times (1991) gives more detail.
The Quaffmanship campaign continued for some years. As usual in the ad business, newer ideas emerge. In tune with the times some Carlsberg ads turned minimalist. An ad placed in a Rochester, New York newspaper in 1965 forms an example:
But in 1960, Martin Solow’s insight to counter the drumbeat of light and dry was prophetic, to say the least. He lived long enough to witness the return of real taste to domestic beer. In some small way, he was responsible for it.
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*Heineken is still a top five import according to a 2021 Beverage Industry report.