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Jottings on Ads and Copywriting

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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.

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..

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.