A Copywriting Blog

Jottings on Ads and Copywriting

Kronenbourg – As French as the Duke of Wellington’s Wellingtons

Before Snickers, before Johnny English and the Barclaycard ads, Rowan Atkinson advertised an obscure French lager called Kronenbourg. Today Kronenbourg is one of the countless brands owned by Carlsberg, and the stuff drunk in the UK doesn’t go anywhere near France.

And that makes the 2014 Kronenbourg advertising campaign featuring Eric Cantona particularly interesting. Ogilvy and Mather were the agency behind the ad known as ‘The Farmers of Alsace’ – a place where the farmers who provide the hops for Kronenbourg are treated like footballers.

Now, the Advertising Standards Authority, in their wisdom, decided to ban the ad as the beer is made in the UK, and most of the hops used in the Kronenbourg brew aren’t French. Carlsberg replied that the recipe was an old French one, and ‘Brewed in the UK’ was clearly stated on screen during the ad.

An independent review lifted the ban. And in 2015 Ogilvy came up with their latest wheeze for Kronenbourg, with Cantona taking on ‘Le Big Swim’ across the English Channel with a little help from a waiting yacht.

Kronenbourg sales have been very high in recent years. It’s one of Carlsberg’s best performing brands.

Which rather suggests consumers aren’t too concerned about the fib at the heart of the Kronenbourg advertising. In fact – taking away Carling which isn’t marketed as having any particular nationality – similar fibs are the norm of lager advertising.

Fosters and Castlemaine might be Australian brands but their beers were made in the UK. Likewise that Bavarian favourite Hofmeister and that classic French brew Stella Artois (or is it Dutch?). However spurious the foreign heritage it’s sold on, the British consumer keeps on lapping it up.


Carling Black Label – The Canadian Lager Sold by Adventurous Squirrels


Carling is the best-selling lager in the UK. Does that mean its ads were the best as well?

Well, possibly.

In truth the ads are rather simple but effective. Subject of the ad comes into show. Seems pretty normal. Then does something amazing, slightly bonkers, or solves a dilemma. Voiceover comes on, tagline is shown, or character says…

I’ll bet he drinks Carling Black Label.

‘It’s the pint you like, gives you that bit more, it’s Carling Black Label.’

It’s not a million miles from the before and after structure of the Heineken ads. But it gets the message across pretty well, that Carling’s the stuff to be drinking to get your juices flowing.

Wright Collins Rutherford Scott were the agency. 1985 was the year. And the tagline was originally written for a pitch to the Milk Marketing Board and read ‘I’ll bet he drinks a lot of milk’. They didn’t get the account so recycled the line for Carling Black Label – or plain Carling as it’s been known since 1997.

Carling, weirdly enough, is a Canadian brand that’s been sold here since the 50s. And since the late 80s it’s been leading the British beer market with its promise of a fuller flavour than any other lager.

The famous Dambusters ad was shown in 1989, one of several to feature the comedy duo Stephen Frost and Mark Arden. They’re also in the ads that allude to and play on the Old Spice Surfer ad and the Levi’s 501 Laundrette skit.

Some of the series are a bit creaky. But there’s some fun stuff in there too, especially the squirrel doing Mission Impossible…

Foster’s – All the Way from Manchester, Australia

Australian for Lager.

Which is strange considering most Australians don’t touch the stuff and the beer they sell in the UK is made in that part of Australia known as Manchester.

Foster’s was started in Australia in 1887, by two American brothers as it happens. But over in Aus they prefer Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught to Foster’s.

Over here, though, it’s second only to Carling among the best-selling lagers. It was first imported to the UK in 1971 and by the 80s was being advertised by that paragon of Australian masculinity Paul Hogan.

Which is my way of suggesting that there may be a bit of crass stereotyping going on, but that it’s crass stereotyping that works.

Our Paul, the fair dinkum embodiment of the classic Aussie larrikin, finds himself in various unlikely scenarios over in Pom-land  which cause humorous misunderstandings and generate quips before he settles himself down with a pint of the Amber Nectar.

A decade later Foster’s were using the line ‘He who drinks Australian, thinks Australian.’

These ads aren’t a million miles from the concept behind the Castlemaine ad – that Australians value their beer more than anything else, even if it’s the life of their kidnapped wife in this case.

Tetley’s – Heading Smoothly into Obscurity

Poor old Tetley’s. Time was when the stuff was ubiquitous. They once had a thousand pubs in Yorkshire alone and another thousand across the nation with the huntsman’s head logo beaming out invitingly at drinkers.

Back in 1911 they even used Harry Houdini in a marketing stunt. He had to escape from a metal box filled with Tetley’s – only he couldn’t and had to be rescued.

In the 80s Tetley’s grew to be a world leader in the production of cask ale. Even into the 90s they were market leaders in the UK ale sector. Until, that is, the rise of John Smith’s. Sales started to decline in the later 90s and into the new millennium.

They were bought out by Carlsberg in 1998 and the Leeds Brewery, home to the beer of Joshua Tetley since 1822, was closed in 2011 as production moved elsewhere. They’ve still got a notable presence in Rugby League sponsorship, but it’s a far cry from the old days.

As for adverts, they’ve had some interesting ones. Here’s one from the early 90s that sees a man astounding his wife by doing some ironing.

The ad stresses a particular stand-out quality of the beer and develops the copy from that – in this case its smoothness, just as the Boddington’s adverts focused on creaminess, and the Heineken ads concentrate on how refreshing the beer is. It’s one way of positioning your beer in a market that’s packed with very similar products.

And by the end of the 90s we have the ‘Smoothly Does It’ campaign run by Saatchi and Saatchi. The gag becomes the Tetley’s drinker finds a smooth way to find a solution to a problem, whether it’s making his way to the pub through a crowd using his soggy dog:

Or, making sure his girlfriend doesn’t catch the bouquet at a wedding by asking her to hold on to his pint of Tetley’s.

They’re neat, witty ads that ran into the noughties.

Problem was, perhaps, that Tetley’s was being overtaken by market forces beyond their control. And not even the greatest of ads could save them..

Stella Artois – Success Can Be Bad for Your Health

Stella Artois were using film-style, epic ads that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to make nearly a decade before the celebrated Guinness ads.

Stella Artois was a problem for advertisers. At 5.2% ABV it’s one of the strongest lagers on the market. That meant extra duty to be paid making for a higher retail price.

In the 70s Collett Dickenson Pearce had the Stella account. The Frank Lowe left and took Stella with him as a client for his new agency, Lowe Howard-Spink in 1981.

He turned the disadvantage of the higher price into a positive with the tagline ‘Reassuringly Expensive’, used in print through the 80s. You pay more, so you must be getting a superior product, right?

The line was actually an old one buried in some long copy and re-cycled by Lowe – just as the Carling copy came from an old pitch for milk advertising.

Then we come to the 90s. Or rather to the 1986 French film Jean de Florette, the story of rustic Provencal peasants. One of the main creatives at Lowe saw the film and had the idea of using similar scenes to advertise Stella Artois.

So a Belgian brand that brewed its beer in the UK ended up selling itself as French.

The resulting ads were tiny films in themselves, beautifully shot, stylish and impressive scenes of French peasant life – ideal for selling the premium, reassuringly expensive Stella Artois.

Like the Heineken ads, the first research feedback suggested that the campaign wouldn’t work. They were in French, had no huge gags, and were, for ads, quite long narratives.

But Whitbread, who handled Stella’s distribution in the UK, persevered. And after the first ad in 1992 they ran until around 2007, with the old tagline ‘Reassuringly Expensive’.

In sequence the ads were Jean de Florette, Monet, Good Samaritan, Red Shoes, Last Orders, Returning Hero, The Good Doctor, Devil’s Island, Pilot, Whip Around, and Cyclists.

In each case a scene from French provincial life, with its slow rhythms, illustrates the value of Stella Artois by showing what people were willing to give just for a taste.

Lowe picked up countless D&AD Awards, Cannes Lions and so on from the advertising industry.

And the ads helped to transform sales of Stella. In the first 13 years of the campaign Stella sales were reckoned to be up by 500%. Brand Republic reported in 2004 that Stella in 1990 had sold 600,000 barrels, and had now reached 3.6 million a year.

A Stella executive interviewed in the same piece suggests the reason the ads worked was because they appealed to all types of drinker – both average Joe football fan and middle-class hipsters.

But this has to be nonsense, doesn’t it? What sticks out in the ads is how arty they are, how far removed from the blokey world of FHM they seem. It’s an upmarket, cinematic campaign aimed at upmarket drinkers.

What attracted Stella to those who perhaps didn’t appreciate the fine French cinematic feel of the ads was the strength of the stuff, at 5.2%, and the fact it became available in supermarkets in bulk at discount prices.

And Stella ended up a victim of its own huge sales.

What was advertised as a high-end, smart lager ended up the favourite of binge-drinkers nationwide, prized for its capacity to get you smashed as soon as possible. It became known to the press as ‘Wife-Beater’, associated with binge drinking and yobs on the high street shouting at strangers.

And that meant a major image problem for the beer. By 2007 sales were dipping. The next ads ditched the name Stella and ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ was retired for a re-brand.

Boddingtons – The Mancunian Candidate

The rise of Boddingtons in the 90s was a triumph of advertising and smart marketing. It had been brewed in Manchester at the Strangeways Brewery for centuries and sold to pubs in the North-West.

In 1989 Whitbread took over and massively upped the marketing budget. What had been a northern ale with reasonable regional sales became a hugely popular beer sold and advertised nationwide.

The unlikely figure of Frankie Howerd fronted the TV ads from 1987 until 1991, shown in the North-West only. At that point Whitbread brought in Bartle Bogle Hegarty to handle advertising.

The result was ‘The Cream of Manchester’ campaign. Stylish, witty and cool they prepped a TV and print campaign that took the element of creaminess associated with the ale and used it as the basis for the whole campaign.

In the print ads, run in lads’ magazines like FHM and stuck on the back cover for maximum coverage, the beer was pictured served in a glass shaped as an ice cream cone.

And in the TV ads we find women using the head of a pint of Boddingtons as face cream, drinking it instead of using suncream, and in a parody of the Cornetto ads we get gondolas on Manchester’s canals.

And, of course, we get a runner springing across the desert to catch an ice-cream van serving pints, to be asked ‘Do y’wanna flake in that, love?’ by Melanie Sykes.

Now this all came as Manchester was becoming the coolest city in Britain: the time of Oasis and the Happy Mondays as the city underwent its cultural revival.

And sales of the beer rocketed up. Selling and marketing nationwide took sales up threefold, with the Boddingtons’ share of the beer market peaking in 1997. It became the fashionable drink for a while.

And then, as with all fashions, it disappeared and the drinkers moved on. The BBH campaign ended in 1999, and sales dipped during the noughties. Advertising ceased, sales went down, and the Strangeways Brewery, a Manchester institution since 1778, was closed down and demolished in 2007.

Hofmeister – There’s a Bear in the Pub and He’s Wearing a Trilby

So far as I can tell Hofmeister never went anywhere near Bavaria and was brewed in the UK by Scottish and Newcastle. It was a 3.2% lager low-strength, low-flavour brew that was, by all accounts, not much stronger than drinking washing-up water.

All that was really of note about Hofmeister were the adverts in the early to mid-80s, by John Webster at Boase Massimi Pollitt, the man who created the Honey Monster, the Cresta Bear and the Smash Martians among countless other brilliant campaigns – and the key figure behind the John Smith’s Arkwright series.

The Hofmeister Bear, named George, lived in the forests of Bavaria, where he used to sit around in his trilby hat bored of watching the leaves fall. Until he tasted Hofmeister Lager, leading him to leave the forests for a life of playing darts, shooting pool, chasing birds, and generally tearing it up in the pub, at the beach, at Ascot, and on the football field.

For great lager, follow the bear. That might not have been strictly true, but it did at least make for some interesting ads featuring what has to be the lairiest, wide boy of a bear ever to feature on UK television.

Castlemaine XXXX – Your Beer or Your Wife?

Australians wouldn’t give a XXXX for anything else.

The line is now to be found in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

It was created by copywriter James Lowther of Saatchi and Saatchi, an Old Etonian and Oxford graduate who subsequently worked on a sheep station in Australia before entering advertising.

Castlemaine was launched in the UK in 1984 – brewed here under licence, of course – and the ad dates to 1985, with the line used in print and TV campaigns.

In truth it’s a fairly simple concept – very similar to that behind the Stella Artois ads of a decade later – that the beer is so good that you’d be willing to give up something else that’s precious to you.

With the Castlemaine ad this concept takes a distinctly Australian flavour – or an English perception of the typical Aussie male, more dedicated to saving his beer than his wife.

And just to show there’s nothing new under the advertising sun, have a look at this later Foster’s ad about a chap who asks his kidnapped wife where his golf clubs are rather than helping to save her…

He who thinks Australian, drinks Australian. Or so they say.

Thanks to the ads Castlemaine rivalled their fellow Australian brand Foster’s in the 80s.

Fast forward to today and their fortunes have diverged massively.

Castlemaine was withdrawn from the UK market in 2013.

Should’ve kept up with the advertising.

Courage – Pure Genius, or was that Guinness?

Whenever anyone says that the Guinness ads of the late 90s are the finest ever made for a beer I always think of the black and white Courage Best ads made by Boase Massimi Pollitt.

They’re just as good and original, even if they don’t have the same epic feel as the Guinness ads.

Courage Best has been one of the best-selling pints in the UK for decades, made originally in London and then Reading. So far as I can tell the ads were made for the Courage heartland in the South.

Dave Trott came across Chas and Dave and thought they’d be a good fit to use on a beer commercial.

He wrote the scripts that took Chas and Dave songs and turned them into hymns to the virtues of Courage Best, whilst John Webster brought the idea of using old pub photos and scenes. The first ads were shown in 1980, I think.

Remember a pint of Best? Courage do.

Black and white. Chas and Dave. Old pubs. Proper beer. Unpretentious, good old-fashioned real beer with a real history and pedigree behind it.

This is the classic formula for advertising ale. It’s repeated in the John Smith’s ‘No Nonsense’ campaign, and you can see it too in the Boddingtons ads.

The Courage ads had people like Hugh Hudson directing them, and Robert Krasker of El Cid and The Third Man fame doing the cinematography.

In all I can find five versions, all of them on YouTube: Gertcha, Rabbit, Down to Margate, Beats All the Rest, and Cinema…


Blank Paper, Blank Mind: Or, the Struggle of the Copywriter

Easy writing makes hard reading. 

So thought Hemingway about great prose.

It’s true for great copy too.

You might think a great headline would flow naturally for the great copywriters, but it can be a struggle for them just as it is for mere mortals.

In most cases good copy is the end product of a long, frustrating process.

They say James Joyce used to nail a couple of sentences a day. On his good days.

I hate writing, I love having written.

So said Dorothy Parker.

The notion that great ideas and writing of any type just comes from sitting at your desk and concentrating couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just think of the great ad campaigns that have been conceived in unlikely places.

Terry Lovelock of CDP came up with the Heineken tagline ‘Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’ after waking up at 3 in the morning whilst in Marrakech shooting another ad.

He’d been flummoxed by the Heineken brief for weeks until then.

‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’ came from CDP too. Both copywriter and art director were stumped on the brief.

So they left work one night, got on the top deck of the bus, sparked up and one said ‘Happiness is a dry cigarette on the number 34 bus.’

David Ogilvy conceived the Guinness Guide to Oysters riding home on the train one night and reading a book about shellfish by a Yale Professor.

‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ is said to have come to copywriter Maurice Drake of Young and Rubicam after two pints at the pub.

Reading through The Copy Book and Ogilvy on Advertising you’ll find the masters of the advertising art acknowledge the difficulties they’ve faced – and how to get past them.

James Lowther of Saatchi and Saatchi counsels getting out the office completely and go and watch the world go by. Failing that make up some gags or stories about the product.

David Abbott suggests never start writing until you’ve got too much to say. In other words keep researching the product or service – and work wherever suits, if that’s at home, in the office or in a hotel room.

Likewise David Ogilvy wrote: ‘Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or talking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret.’

And Alfredo Marcantonio thinks you’ll need to find everything possible relating to the product – technical data, rivals’ ads, press reviews. Then reducing it all down gets easier.

Steve Hayden, the maestro behind the early Apple advertising, suggests reading things like The Bible or Country and Western lyrics to get you inspired.

Lyrics like…

I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s Like Having You Here

I Wouldn’t Take Her to a Dog Fight, Cos I’m Afraid She’d Win

If I’d Shot You When I Wanted To, I’d Be Out By Now

Velcro Arms, Teflon Heart

I Got In At Two With a Ten, And Woke Up At Ten With a Two

And Malcolm Duffy suggests hitting the Thesaurus and writing out lists of connected ideas and words to your brief.

Once you’ve written something, start re-writing it, playing with the words.

And don’t forget lots of great lines are simply recycled lines. The Stella Artois line ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ was lifted from an old ad’s body copy.

‘I’ll bet he drinks Carling Black Label’ started out as a line promoting milk for Milk Marketing Board pitch that Wight Collins Rutherford Scott didn’t get.

They just substituted Carling for milk and used it.