Written by Loren Logsdon
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 00:00
I have always thought that beer commercials provided some of the most interesting entertainment on television. But in the last 20 years or so I find beer commercials to be boring in their sameness and completely lacking in imagination and creativity. They didn’t used to be that way.
In an earlier column I mentioned the Falstaff Cowboys of the 1960s. In the previous decade, however, Falstaff commercials featured an entertaining cartoon character called The Old Pro. He had a large, Pinocchio-like nose and wore a baseball cap, a sweater, and a coach’s whistle on a string around his neck. He was a self-appointed authority on all sports, but his total incompetence made him a comic figure.
What also made The Old Pro interesting was his voice. It was self-assured, pompous, and familiar. Later I discovered that it was the voice of Eddie Mayehoff, who appeared with Jack Lemon in the movie “How to Murder Your Wife.”
Then there were the Hamm’s Beer commercials, featuring a cartoon bear who was often as incompetent as The Old Pro. We came to enjoy the Hamm’s bear for his harmless but amusing antics, and the commercials gave us distinctive music in the sound of native American drums and the lyrics “From the land of sky-blue waters.”
Later, Hamm’s featured a man and his bear, constant companions in various places out in the natural world. The bear was real. The man was once a guest at a Chicago Cubs baseball game, but for some reason the bear was not invited. I heard Milo Hamilton refer to the man as Bill Hammond, but I suspect that he made that name up. As Jack Lord used to say in “Hawaii Five-O” “It’s too pat, Dano.”
Then, to sell their Lite beer to a reluctant public, Millers ran a series of commercials featuring retired professional athletes and manly, macho figures such as hard-boiled detective novelist Mickey Spillane. What a joy it was to see the likes of Mean Joe Green, Dick Butkus, John Ellway, Broadway Joe Namath, or other greats of the past. I paid close attention, hoping to catch a glimpse of Gene Upshaw. Yes! Saints preserve us! Big Gene Upshaw, a man among men. Now those athletes of the past never make an appearance on a beer commercial.
One other distinctive beer was Drewrys, distinctive because of something called kraeusening, an old world process of “double brewing,” which was supposed to produce better beer. Drewrys proudly proclaimed that their beer was fully kraeusened. Later I discovered that all beer companies use that process, but since Drewrys was the first to claim it in the advertising, then the other companies could not use it.
Even if you didn’t use the product, the ads were entertaining and each beer was distinctive in having a special trademark. All that has changed. Now there is nothing truly unique or distinctive about beer commercials. In fact, they are pretty much interchangeable: a large crowd of smiling young people (always a large crowd), all fashionably dressed and having a good time. Some of them look like they are not old enough to be legally drinking.
Have the geezers stopped drinking beer? Probably not, but I don’t really know. Perhaps the Miley Cyrus principle can be useful here. In her infinite wisdom and tender mercies, Miley proclaimed that, in spite of the numerous Cialis and Viagra commercials, people over 40 do not engage in a certain activity. Come to think of it, there are no geezers in the Cialis and Viagra ads either. So maybe Miley’s over 40 principle applies to beer drinking as well. I need to write to Phil Luciano, Peoria’s legendary Beer Avenger, and find out.
But the sad truth is that beer advertisers have sacrificed creativity, imagination, and individual product identity to appeal to the masses of young consumers, especially those not old enough to drink legally. Consequently, the word “party” has been changed from a noun to a verb. And any beer will do. It’s Huxley’s “Brave New World” and welcome to it.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 December 2013 15:30