Fuckin’ close to water

Amsterdam Ad Blog, 06 maart 2015

Beer commercials form the perfect metaphor for a world where authenticity has become the norm, claims Wouter Boon

What’s the comparison between making love in a canoe and Budweiser? It’s fuckin’ close to water. A joke that can be easily applied to most pilsners. The only difference is that some pilsners just have a tastier image. Ironically though, the fact that most beers are more or less the same makes it the favourite product for advertising agencies. The reason is simple; the proposition, concept and execution entirely make the product.

That’s why you’d think that in beer commercials the ad agency really gets to show off its creativity. Not entirely true I found out last week when coming across a scientific article(thanks, Linda Duits) that proves that the propositions in beer commercials are quite similar. The research compared 153 beer spots from 8 countries (among which Holland, Belgium, Australia, UK and the US) – created between 2004 and 2012. In more than half of the cases ‘authenticity’ was an important part of the proposition.

Other themes, such as manliness and (male) friendship, were also used, but the authors focus on authenticity. Authenticity they say is derived from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s celebration of the ‘noble savage,’ which is a human being that “lives in close harmony with an unspoilt nature, socially embedded in small and close-knit communities, and unconstrained by the alienating behavioural prescriptions of modern civilization.” This ideal became the bedrock of Romanticism and has today become the “cornerstone of modern marketing.”

The researchers distinguish four sub themes in beer commercials when it comes to authenticity; (pre-industrial) craftsmanship (think: copper beer boilers), naturalness (think: hop close-ups and rural settings), concrete locations (think: ‘made in’) and historical roots (think: ‘brewed since’). Obviously these 4 sub themes go well together.

What, you’re ordering a pilsner? someone asked me recently in disbelief in a San Francisco bar that offered 30 different very special local brews on tap

It seems strange that beer is so often advertised as authentic. After all, it’s an artificially, mass-produced and mass consumed liquid – that easily gives you a dehydration hang-over. What’s authentic about that? And with the popularity of micro-brews these days the image of normal beer is even further watered down. “What, you’re ordering a pilsner?!” someone asked me recently in disbelief in a San Francisco bar that offered 30 different very special local brews on tap. I instantly felt mainstream and thus far away from authentic.

Come to think of it, maybe I was being authentic choosing pilsner, while the entire bar was drinking micro-brews. I guess this doubt shows how the overused authenticity-proposition confuses the consumer. Or, paraphrasing from the scientific article: “Advertisers face an awkward dilemma; consumers value authenticity more than anything else, yet simultaneously distrust claims to authenticity more than ever before.”

The questions therefore is; how to be authentic in an over-authentic world?

Watery beers with their identical propositions are the perfect metaphor for a world where authenticity has become the standard. So the question is; how to be authentic in this over-authentic world? The research reveals the solution in the beer market; 37% of the beer commercials that communicate authenticity directly or indirectly admit that the authentic world they convey is a myth. In other words, the tone of voice is sufficiently over the top so that even Joe Sixpack understands that the authenticity-claim is not to be taken seriously. This Newcastle Brown commercial (a teaser for its Superbowl commercial) is a good example; “Do you think people on farms dress like this? They don’t, they wear overalls. I am dressed like a f*** milkmaid” Aubrey Plaza tells the camera.

And this is exactly why advertising beer is fun; it really doesn’t matter what you tell your audience, as long as you make them laugh. You can even turn your weakness – being mainstream – into a strength. Which is what Budweiser did in its last commercial; it mocks the micro-brewery trend by selling its beer as “marco-brewed.” The fact though that they also use all the authenticity sub-themes mentioned before somewhat contradicts its macro-message. Entangled in its own myth, as it were.

Either way, I don’t really care what Budweiser – or any other beer brand – tells me. I will always prefer to make love in a canoe. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by unspoiled nature and far away from beer brands that tell me authenticity is the way forward.

Contact
Czaar Peterstraat 111
1018PE Amsterdam
+31(0)6 4222 8896
Ook van Wouter Boon