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From Guinness Surfer, to Carling’s You Know Who Your Mates Are and Stella Artois’ Reassuringly Expensive campaigns; beer ads used to be the benchmark for creative excellence. 

The excitement started the moment those briefs hit the agency.

They were the briefs every team wanted to work on, and brands from outside the category looked to beer advertising for inspiration. We were each lucky enough to work on some fantastic beer campaigns, licking our lips at various stages when we were part of the teams creating ads for Stella, Carlsberg, Heineken, Kronenbourg and Budweiser, amongst others. 

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Guinness – Guinness: Surfer

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Stella Artois – Stella Artois: The Good Doctor

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Carling – Carling: Space

Above: Some of the most famous and impactful UK beers commercials.


The excitement started the moment those briefs hit the agency, and only grew as the campaigns made their way to the big creative and effectiveness award shows; by closing time, they would always seem to have racked up more than their fair share of silverware.

Brand image is so important that we used to say people drink the advertising.

Why all the excitement? One reason was that beer ads were ahead of their time. Nowadays, plenty of brands have cottoned on to the power of emotion. But not so long ago, most advertisers were falling over themselves to communicate their USPs and rational benefits. Those are in short supply in the world of beer.  Instead, brand image is so important that we used to say people drink the advertising. To sell a beer you needed to sell a feeling. The ads were all entertaining, they made you laugh or pulled on your heartstrings, or they were really epic.

Carlsberg – Old Lions

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Above: Carlsberg's Old Lions, from 2006, on which Denney was art director. 


Beer advertisers also had the expertise, driven by insights, of tapping into powerful truths about their audience. These were the brands that understood men better than any others. They knew men’s strengths; who can forget Guinness’ celebrations of patience? They appreciated friendships and, further back, Stella got under the skin of men’s weaknesses, showing just what they were willing to sacrifice for a pint.

Brands built on masculinity have to adapt, and a few (like Gillette) have arguably got themselves into a bit of a pickle.

This explains, in large part, why most beer advertising no longer shines, and has lost some of its confidence – because, at its best, it drew on ideas of masculinity and focusing attention on the foibles of being a bloke. Today, society’s ideas about what makes a man are so much more complicated, and rightly so. Brands built on masculinity have to adapt, and a few (like Gillette) have arguably got themselves into a bit of a pickle. If you’re thinking about beer as a bloke’s drink then it’s going to be very difficult to capture those past glories, because you’ll always be treading carefully around what it means to be a man.

Heineken – Cheers To All

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Above: Heineken's Cheers To All challenges the idea that women don't drink beer.


At the same time, female categories like sanitary protection have seen a remarkable creative turnaround. Once a byword for creative disappointment, who wouldn’t love to have Like a Girl or Viva La Vulva on their reel today? These brands challenge ideas of femininity and bust taboos through amazing creativity, and they’re also now at the forefront of providing entertainment to audiences.  

Is the answer to reboot masculinity and usher in a glorious new era of ‘ladvertising’?

So, is the answer to reboot masculinity and usher in a glorious new era of ‘ladvertising’? Definitely not. Because if beer ever was just a drink for men, it isn’t today. In 2009, only 3% of women drank beer at home – today it is a third. Heineken’s recent Cheers To All ad [above] challenges the idea that women don’t drink beer. A move that highlights beer advertising has to call time on gender and get back to doing what it does best; engaging us with deep, human truths about the audience. It’s just that today the audience, and the opportunity, is 50% bigger. 

Birra Moretti – Pull Together

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Above: St Luke's work for Birra Moretti, Pull Together. 


As a result, the category - thanks partly to the influx of craft ales - has gone from selling cheap drinks to the bloke down the boozer to something much more interesting. Our recent work on beer brands such as Birra Moretti very consciously avoids focusing on what it’s like to be a bloke, instead playfully encouraging us to slow down and make time for family: to live life the Italian way.

You have a drink to enjoy yourself and entertain, but the category isn’t as entertaining as it could be.

If beer advertising is ever going to regain its place at the top of the creative pile, it will have to reinvent its sense of humour and wit. You have a drink to enjoy yourself and entertain, but the category isn’t as entertaining as it could be.

What it really needs is an investment in creativity, and an understanding that beer advertising is always at its best when it entertains us with compelling insights about people.

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