A Copywriting Blog

Jottings on Ads and Copywriting

Month: April, 2016

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Castlemaine was withdrawn from the UK market in 2013.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.

Beer, Beer, Beer

After posting on the Guinness and Murphy’s ads I thought I’d continue looking at how beer in general has been sold on British TV.

I’ve got a series of posts to come on individual beers, but I’ll start with a few general observations…


Guaranteed: Beer Feeds Your Creativity

To win a brief selling beer must have been like manna from heaven for advertisers.

For a start budgets have tended to be high.

And plenty of scientific testing has shown that punters can’t distinguish between individual beer brands. So they’re unlikely to be basing their choice of drinks on flavour.

This is where advertising brings its added value to the product. Creating a brand with a bit of buzz around it becomes vital. And that gives a lot of room to the advertisers to let their creativity run wild.

And the key beer demographic encourages the use of gags, humour, and wit. Beer companies need to be hitting the male 18-40 group with their marketing – a group typically interested in comedy.

So there’s licence to go for it for creative directors, art directors and copywriters.


Recurring Traits…

Looking through beer ads you see certain structures and traits stick out.

Taglines are king.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait. Reassuringly Expensive. Refreshes the Parts Other Beers Cannot Reach. I’ll Bet He Drinks Carling Black Label. Australian for Lager. The Cream of Manchester. Australians Wouldn’t Give a XXXX For Anything Else. No Nonsense. Remember a Pint of Best? Courage Do. Follow the Bear. Smoothly Does It. Probably the Best Lager in the World…

Films have given plenty of inspiration to beer ads.

Holsten Pils ads took the collage techniques of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. Stella Artois took their lead from Jean de Florette.

The classic before-and-after structure is much in evidence, too.

Tired and weary? Try our product. Now look at you go! It’s the basic structure behind the Heineken and Carling Black Label ads.

Or you sell on the beer on one quality. The creaminess of Boddingtons. The smoothness of Tetley’s. The northern no-nonsense of John Smith’s. The London-ness of Courage. Take one quality and go for a walk with it.

Or you stress the worth of your beer. What would you give for a pint? Your wife in the case of Castlemaine. A whole cartload of beautiful flowers in Stella’s first big ad of the 90s.


Does Lager Have to be Marketed as Foreign?

To sell ale stress the ‘realness’ of the product. It’s real beer with real heritage. Uncomplicated, no nonsense, genuine beer.

To sell lager, so the cliché goes, give it spurious Continental or foreign roots, even though it’s made down the road in Manchester or South Wales.

It’s true, in part. Kronenbourg got into trouble in 2014 about their ‘Farmers in Alsace‘ ad with Eric Cantona as the beer was made in the UK.

When Whitbread tried to launch a British lager known as GB it flopped.

And Stella, Foster’s, Castlemaine were all made in the UK despite advertisements that ran on their foreign roots – even if they say ‘Brewed in the UK’ in the corner the viewer is effectively part of a game of willing make-believe.

But the most successful lager of all, Carling, curiously enough a Canadian brand, used British comedians and good-old British dry wit in their ads. And their beer sold better than any other.


Does Any of this Actually Work?

The huge question. I’ll try and look at each case individually in the posts that follow.

Certainly beer ads seep into popular culture. Just think of ‘Top Bombing‘ and ‘Ave It‘.

And according to some accounts creative advertising was responsible for changing the nation’s drinking habits away from ale and towards lager in the 70s.

There’s a counter-argument to that, and I’ll look at it in post on Heineken.

But the rise of beers like John Smith’s, Boddingtons, and Stella Artois in the 90s has to be down, at least partly, to their huge ad campaigns, even if there are factors like pricing, distribution and promotions to consider too.

And once the ad campaigns stop in many cases the beers wither and die. You’ll struggle to find Boddingtons these days, or Hofmeister or Castlemaine in the UK, despite their once famous ads.

It’s even possible that great advertising contributed to their fall. If you become the fashionable drink on the back of cool ads, you have to be prepared for the drinkers to one day move on to the next fad.

So let’s begin –  with the wonderful Courage ads….