Features

Is the great Aussie beer ad dead?

For a generation, Australian beer ads have been among the best in the world, but over the past four years the fizz has gone out as marketers use rational thinking to move the amber ale. Mumbrella asks, is The Big Ad dead?

The country that spawned brilliant beer campaigns such as a curious exploring tongue, a Flashdance audition for a brewery job, a symphony of beer bottles and, of course, the greatest of them all, The Big Ad, has gone flat.

In the last four years the industry has moved from the big idea to more transactional ads, as drinkers cut down their consumption and many move towards more boutique brands.

The final split between Lion and BMF, the agency which carried XXXX Gold to the mantle of Australia’s best selling beer and gave the world Tooheys’ travelling tongue ‘Quest’ ad, is the end of a relationship which once celebrated brilliant ads.

But does it also signal the end of beer as the pinnacle of advertising as entertainment?

There was a time when to be successful as an agency you needed an airline, a car and a beer account. But beer was where all the fun was, and not just for the staff bar.

One creative director who worked at Y&R in the halcyon days of the CUB business says that Australia had seen two golden eras in beer advertising.

“There was the classic 1970s and 1980’s beer ads such as ‘I Feel Like a Tooheys’ and ‘A Hard Earned Thirst’ for VB,” he says.

“When Mojo asked ‘How Do You Feel?’ and VB was the reward for sweat. They were fun and made you thirsty.

“The second era was from 2004 to 2014, with campaigns such as ‘Made From Beer’ and ‘VB Symphony’. They were fun and made you thirsty, but I can’t remember any of them saying ‘this beer is refreshing’. This is the problem, they are trying to make it rational. Beer is supposed to be fun, it’s fucken beer!”

He says the era of big brewers making brilliant ads was over, as they watered down great ideas with research and unique selling points, leaving the creative space to the small brands.

“Back in the great era every client was jealous of what the other beer brands were doing and wanted something even better. Even inside CUB the brand managers were competing against each other to make the greatest ad. Yes, beer advertising was fun once.”

Warren Brown, who offended and amused Australians in equal measure with Tooheys’ Extra Dry’s tongue ad, said the proposition was simple.

“It’s the only category where you drink the advertising,” Brown adds.

“So you have got to do it in a way that’s surprising and memorable. People going out at night to party, and drink is just what people do. But when you do it with Stags, it becomes memorable. It was a blast to work on these ads.”

Brown says beer ads should aim to just be another mate in a circle of friends, a welcome companion; not lecturing or being serious, but raising a smile.

It was an approach embodied in BMF’s work for XXXX Gold.

Another creative summed up the reason Aussie beer advertising had gone flat was the corporatisation of the industry and placed the blame directly at the feet of the brewers who were unwilling to take risks.

“The path to mediocrity is paved with sound decisions. Maybe we have too many sound decisions,” he said.

I do know where all the great beer ads are, they are in the bottom drawers of creatives all over Sydney and Melbourne, smashed by the ignorance of brand managers.”

Even VB, the which had seen its creative rooted in the simple idea of ‘A Hard Earned Thirst’ for a generation, ventured in the direction of the ‘Big Ad’ when it unveiled The Regulars.

But ultimately the approach failed to shift the dial and VB is now back where it began.

The Hallway’s executive creative director, Simon Lee, said research might be part of the issue, but he believed that the great Aussie beer ad would return in another form.

“I would like to think that the great Aussie Beer ad is just sleeping off a big night rather than actually dead, although it has been a while since we’ve seen a beer ad that has really got the nation talking,” Lee said.

“People will no doubt point to reduced budgets and excessive reliance on research as reasons for this and there is most likely some truth in it. But I think we should really be turning our attention beyond the great one-off advertisement, to the endless opportunities that exist to create great contemporary Aussie beer advertisingbrilliantly targeted hyper relevant digital video, mobile and digital outdoor work for example.

Why settle for one great ad when you can have hundreds or even thousands of brilliant iterations?”

Richard Oppy, marketing director at Carlton & United Breweries, who has seen the evolution of Australian beer ads over the past 15 years, admits that there may not have been the kind of attention-grabbing ads we saw in the past in recent years, but he believed the sector wasn’t dead, just sleeping.

“I think we have definitely had a quiet period over the last couple of years and it comes back to the style of the ad,” Oppy said.

“I would like to think consumers will see in the next 12 months some big ideas and will be entertained.”

Lately, brewers have started marketing on more rational levels, such as pure Blonde’s lower calorie beer and Great Northern’s mid-strength offer.

Oppy admitted that while big ads could generate amazing interest, they didn’t always work.

“For me it’s not a big ad for a big ad’s sake.” he said. “Beer Chase was a great ad, but that was not necessarily reflected in sales.”

By comparison, sales on Pure Blonde and Great Northern were in an upward trajectory despite the significantly more entertaining nature of earlier Pure Blonde ads.

Another executive who has worked across multiple brands said that competition had been the key to lifting Aussie beer ads to new levels.

“What you had with CUB and Lion was two great competitors taking swings at each other,” he added.

Some have pointed to the new XXXX Gold campaign by Host, the first work since it won the account from BMF earlier in the year, as an example of the rationalism now being adopted.

The new ‘Take in the Gold’ campaign is a departure from the purely male focused ads created by BMF which kept the focus firmly on men and mateship.

But beer as an edgy and entertaining part of the advertising world may be doomed regardless of how much support the brewers give their brands.

“The big issue here is grog ads are going to go the way of cigarette advertising,” said one of Australia’s most highly regarded creative directors.

I don’t know how much longer we can peddle beer to kids in sports.”

Perhaps the measure of just how good Australian beer ads were at their height was the investment CUB made in Carlton and the ‘Made From Beer’ campaign over a decade.

From the first ad out of GPY&R in Melbourne in 2003, ‘No Explanations’ the campaign mocked everything that had come to represent the industry and its marketing and instantly struck a chord.

Each year it spawned a new approach to the brand with Canoes in 2004 having fun at the expense of a generation of young business executives.

‘The Big Ad’ – the pinnacle of the campaign – was released as a viral ad ahead of a TV release in 2005 and stopped beer marketing executives in their tracks around the globe.

The pressure was now really on the brewer to deliver a chart-topping effort every year, and despite the account shifting from GPY&R to Clemenger BBDO the quality remained high in subsequent efforts such as ‘Flashbeer’, ‘Skytroop’, ‘Slo Mo’ and the final ad in the series, an epic ode to cops and robbers, ‘Beer Chase’, in 2012.

‘Made From Beer’ wasn’t without controversy though, and in 2010 Carlton released ‘Tingle’, a quirky, folk song-backed ode to the feeling of a man’s growing desire for a Carlton.

With references to his “goolies” and the feeling in his “man plums”, the ad went from TV to viral to being pulled completely – the undiscussed sibling in Australia’s greatest ever series of beer ads.

It was an era when Australian advertising could stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with some of the best ads from around the world.

But that was then.

The brilliant ads of the past have become mere mile markers on the road to mediocrity.

Australians don’t celebrate beer ads any more. They wait for Lamb on Australia Day and expect more of a chuckle from German supermarkets.

The welcome companion in a circle of mates has gone.

If, as Warren Brown said, “you drink the advertising”, the product is warm, flat and stale. And right now it’s as dead as a Monty Python parrot.

ADVERTISEMENT

SUBSCRIBE

Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing