I still remember the first beer advert I ever took any real notice of. It appeared during a commercial break on ITV (likely during one of those turbo-charged, over-too-soon episodes of AirWolf or Macgyver). In between wondering why women found Templeton Peck so attractive when Murdoch was clearly the best one out of the A-Team, or pondering why Manimal never turned into a school hamster so he could see the answers to the upcoming test, there suddenly appeared an advert of a style I’d never seen before – or come to think of it, since. Such is the wonderment of the modern age, that when this 30 year distant memory popped into my head, I managed to find said advert on YouTube within twenty seconds. Googling for ‘beer advert cowboys different adverts’ was all it took. And yes, that is how my mind works.
The classic tale of ‘small man comes good by harnessing the power of lager’ looks unbelievably dated now – it probably did then as well come to think of it – but the thing that blew my tiny choose-your-own-adventure addled mind was when the advert continued into the next one, and then the next one. Woah! It’s the cowboys again, in a supermarket! But it’s the same one! With the cowboys! In a supermarket! And that was enough to lodge it in the back of my brain, undiscovered for over three decades. Over and above much more well-known beer adverts of the time – even from the same producer (most notably of all the famous Dambusters advert).
This was the era of ‘I wish I was in Greenall Whitley Land’, (below) when beer made men bond by spontaneously breaking into song about its majesty; the cherished pinnacle of everything they could desire – apart from the, er, backside of the barmaid bending over. Looking at that particular advert – the whole advert, not that particular part of it – brings to mind two things. Firstly lecherous old men are largely absent from commercials these days, and secondly – that particular ‘pub as the centre of life’ idea is still with us today, as depicted in the strangely similar Caledonia Best advert first screened in 2012.
The point is, thanks to its ingenuity that Carling advert has stuck with me long after the taste of the beer has thankfully left my memory. For things to lodge in the grey matter they need to stand out and be different, moving away from the more familiar themes to grab the attention. These days of course you are never more than six feet from someone trying to sell you something somehow, and in this era of Clickbait there is such an amount of competition you’d think the modern beer adverts would strive even more to stand out – but where are the amazing current examples? The beer commercial you half-watch on your tablet before swiping right and getting on with something more important, but that you keep coming back to.
Taking a while to think about this, the Boddington’s adverts of the late 80’s and Guinness adverts of the mid-90’s have given way to…what, exactly? The only contemporary beer advert I can think of are the Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl smackdowns – which for the record I think were hilarious. The furore over ‘pumpkin peach ale’ and craft beer whimsy somewhat missed the point, with AB-InBev using their financial muscle to lay down as much for an evening’s commercials as they spend on the average brewery takeover. But you can’t deny the adverts get people talking – and this year’s Super Bowl advert was even better (I can’t watch the barfly flicking the lemon wedge off his beer without laughing, even now).
So, has the golden era of beer advertising on television left us, or am I just getting old? The technology involved, and how we come to see commercials, has changed over time every bit as much as the contents of the pewter jug/glass/self-opening aluminium E-schooner. In the years to come no doubt we’ll be subjected to personalised VR headset bombardment of our beer of choice, viewed whilst standing on a street corner plugged into the matrix. Maybe then, whilst repeatedly lifting that imaginary snifter of imperial weizen90/- to your stimpacked lips, NuBud zeppelins cruising fifty feet overhead, you’ll momentarily evade the thought police as a flashback to an earlier time of beer advertising pops into your subconscious.
This is of course the power of advertising. And if you need a pithy example to bring that home, take a flying guess as to what beer I started drinking when I was old enough to visit pubs (the afternoon of my 18th birthday, not a moment before). It was, of course, Carling Black Label. The more I think about it, the less of a co-incidence that seems – even if the standard pub-based equivalents in Preston in the early-90’s were Worthington’s and Stones’s Bitter, both of which I found awful but can only have been a hundred times nicer than Carling. It seems that when it comes to your first drink of choice – what you see is far more important than what you know. Yet as your tastes change, those original adverts stay with you.