Beer ads are changing. From Carlsberg admitting it is probably not the best lager in the world after all to anti-advertising BrewDog starting to, er, advertise, something is stirring in the marketing teams of the world's big breweries.
Here The Drum takes a look at how some of the most loved, most popular and most notorious beer brands have changed their advertising approach in recent times.
The renegade Scottish craft brewer has built its reputation around the supposed ethos of punk, eschewing advertising for provocative and sometimes shocking stunts. Among them, serving the world’s strongest beer in the bodies of dead squirrels, enlisting a dwarf to petition parliament for the introduction of a two-thirds pint glass and creating a pale ale laced with steroids to help Olympians “relax before a big event and at the same time increase their chances of winning”.
"You would be better off blowtorching your hard-earned cash than spending it on advertising,” co-founder James Watt wrote in his 2015 tome Business for Punks.
But punk is dead and so is BrewDog's advertising veto. The brand scored valuable ad space during the latest episode of Game of Thrones to promote its Punk IPA product – in its own unique way, of course.
Informed by studies that as much as three-quarters of the public don’t trust advertising, the stark spot simply shows a can of Punk IPA set against a black-and-white backdrop of the word ‘Advert’, with the heavy metal track ‘Bleed’ by Meshuggah playing in the background. "The most honest ad ever," it claims.
BrewDog is no stranger to controversy having previously launched campaigns mocking fellow beer brands including Budweiser and Stella Artois (though a jibe at Scottish rival Tennent's backfired). Given that the craft brewery has faced accusations of idea pilfering from its former agency Manifest (which it denies) its new "honest" approach has not gone down well with everyone.
A change is as good as a rest is an old adage that appears to have been heeded by Carlsberg. In a shock departure from its long-running ‘Probably the best beer in the world' tagline, the Danish brewer began promoting real consumer tweets slating the taste of its beer. This move did not go unnoticed by the public and with conspiracy theories abounding, many industry observers began to question the motives behind this unconventional marketing approach.
Then came the reveal. Original recipe Carlsberg was probably not the best beer in the world after all, the brand admitted, in ads and social videos showing brewery staff reading out the mean tweets. This subversive and attention-grabbing move was boosted by the efforts of the brand’s agency partners Fold7, Clifford French and Initiative. And from the interest piqued by Carlsberg’s highlighting of these less than flattering opinions, the brand unleashed its supposedly better Danish-style Pilsner to the market.
Heralded as Scotland’s favorite beer, Tennent’s has been a barroom mainstay since the beginning of the 20th century. And while initially this beer would only have had to appeal to working men, as society moved on and pubs grew to accomodate a more diverse crowd, so too did the brand’s marketing.
Moving on from the Lager Lovelies that graced beer cans from the 60s until the 80s, the beer brand has succeeded in retaining its trademark tongue-in-cheek tone at the expense of any questionable overtones.
Tennent’s is a paragon of Scottish humor, never missing an opportunity to play on the problems that plague the Scots when south of the border, take the piss out of rival beer brands (Carlsberg was the latest to experience this) and, most importantly, take the piss out of Scotland itself.
Mexican beer brand Corona’s earliest ads looked like something straight out of a holiday brochure: hackneyed white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and a cool, limed bottle of Corona at the ready.
One ad that truly showcases the beer brand’s move into sophisticated, thoughtful territory is its early 2019 spot ‘La Cerveza Mas Fina’, on which it worked with LA agency Observatory. This Wes Andersen-style stop animation piece tells the story of Corona’s close links with Mexico, starting from the Mexican Revolution right up until the present day. This ad not only celebrates the history of Corona, but its Mexican heritage and inextricable links with the country.
The Dutch beer’s original advertising approach focused on creating cinematic spoofs of big-name biblical and cultural stories, including Noah’s Ark and The Battle of Troy. This strategy appeared to fit with the brand’s ‘In the Amstel tradition’ tagline at the time.
However, we’ve seen Amstel move away from both this tagline and style of advertising in recent years, instead bringing the focus back to its European home. Its recent slew of ads has been set within Amsterdam itself, including its spot ‘The smallest bar in Amsterdam’ which celebrates a cosy canal-side pub which becomes a massive beer garden when the water freezes over in winter.
Latterly, Amstel borrowed Jeff ‘The Dude’ Bridges from lager rival Stella Artois to celebrate Amsterdam’s reputation as the city of bridges. In the ad, Bridges reflects on the connective nature of bridges and their ability to bring people together. This is a theme that was also present in Amstel Russia’s 2018 ad ‘Hold my beer’, set in an unnamed yet quintessentially European city, celebrating friendship and loyalty. "The simplest ideas are often the most engaging – and ‘Hold my Beer’ is one of those,” said Kalle Hellzen, executive creative director at 180 Kingsday, the agency behind the spot.
Home of the line ‘It’s good… but it’s not quite Carling’, this English beer has built its reputation as a favorite among men’s men and football fans across the UK. Its ads have historically placed bromance at the heart of the action, often relying on laddish humor to get attention
In a change of pace, Carling has gone back to its roots in its latest ads set in its hometown of Burton-on-Trent. In these spots, the lads have made way for real people from the community, including an LGBTQ+ football team. The refreshingly unvarnished #MadeLocal campaign has also seen Carling team up with punk band Slaves on a special music video to save that most important of local institutions, the British pub.
Good things come to those who wait, a wise stout spot once said. And while Guinness may not have stuck with that particular line forver, the brand has stuck by ith its tried-and-trusted agency AMV BBDO for over 20 years.
The brand’s signature combination of emotive storytelling and choice selection of videography and music has created an instantly recognizable advertising style for Guinness and an enviable showreel of celebrated commercials.
Last year, the brand's 1999 spot ‘Surfer’ was voted the best ad of all time in the World Cup of Ads poll run by BBH. The spirit of this campaign echoes in recent ads such as 2017 Compton Cowboys commercial and the heartwarming recent work promoting its Six Nations rugby sponsorship. In beer advertising, the more things change, the more they stay the same.