Opinion: Pete Brown asks if advertisers are giving bang for your buck?

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Golden age: Beer and cider advertising has moved away from TV (AnaBGD/iStock/thinkstock.co.uk)
Golden age: Beer and cider advertising has moved away from TV (AnaBGD/iStock/thinkstock.co.uk)
Beer writer Pete Brown reveals it was the marketing of beers in years gone by that first drew him to the industry

“I’m a big fan of beer ads myself. They’re extremely clever and entertaining... just don’t ask me to drink the beer, too.”

Search any list of ‘beer quotes’, and this, from Boston Beer Company’s founder and CEO Jim Koch in 1988, will be on the list. 

At the time Koch wrote it, I was a committed Castlemaine XXXX drinker, for no other reason than their ads were the best thing on TV. On posters, the image of a human arm reaching from a crocodile’s mouth for a tin of the lager is an expression of desire unequalled by any fine artist working in a visual medium.

Strength and toughness

Beer ads are the reason I’m here. I loved them so much, I wanted to help make them. Ten years later, I was working on ads for Heineken and Stella Artois, and that’s where my interest in writing about beer began. 

My old boss was advertising’s equivalent of the drill sergeant in an American army movie, the kind of tough old bastard who breaks you down and then remakes you, stronger and tougher. 

He taught me to think and construct an argument and keep asking questions once everyone else is satisfied. 

Often, when I receive a press release or see some new marketing initiative from a brewer, I think of him and imagine his response. When I was shown one industry campaign a few years ago, as the thinking was explained to me, I could almost hear him saying, “You could spend your money on this. That’s fine. Alternatively, you could draw it out in cash, put it in a big pile and set fire to it. It’ll have exactly the same effect on your sales as this campaign would, but at least it’ll keep you warm for a bit.” 

I kept his thoughts to myself that time, I’ll admit.

We’re still occasionally in touch and, recently, he’s been aiming his piercing gaze and ‘Cowellish’ judgment at the beer industry. He’s not impressed. 

When we worked together, more publicans wanted to stock Stella Artois than any other beer because its ads were more loved than those of any other brand.

I wonder when a publican last stocked a beer because its TV ads were driving people to ask for it by name, so much so that they would go to another pub if you didn’t stock it?

My boss still believes in the potential of advertising, and he recently sent me some examples of ads that were so powerful they changed the dynamics of the market. One was the XXXX crocodile ad. The other three were all at least 20 years old. 

Level playing field

My argument is that brands now are built online or in person rather than on TV screens or billboards. I’m sad for the demise of great ads, but the upside is that now, the playing field is much more level. You no longer need an ad agency to build a brand, just a Twitter account and a brain. BrewDog has 124,000 Twitter followers. Stella Artois UK has 25,000. Even I’ve got as many followers as the official Budweiser UK account. 

Of course, just as there can be good and bad TV ads, there can be good and bad pump clip designs, events, social media feeds and sponsorships. That’s why, in 2016, we started the Beer and Cider Marketing Awards, to celebrate the best marketing across the industry, now that the best can come from anywhere. 

Entries for this year’s awards are coming in thick and fast, but even some companies with big budgets have said no to us. The most common reason? “We don’t think we have anything worth entering this year.”

Now, if that’s a polite brush off, fine. Thanks for sparing our feelings. But if that’s true – if you’re in a market that’s shrinking in size while the number of players in it is rocketing, and you think the marketing you’ve done this year is so mediocre it’s not even worth entering for an award (or worse, you haven’t even done any marketing) – then maybe you’re in the wrong job. 

Great TV campaigns may be a thing of the past. But if they haven’t been replaced by anything as imaginative and inspirational, this industry is in deep trouble.  

Entries for the 2018 Beer and Cider Marketing Awards close on 1 July. Find out more details at bestofbeerandcider.com 

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