hofmeister bear

The ads that made people drink the beer they did

It's the Great British Beer Festival this week. Last year we looked at some of the most iconic beer ads

By jeremy lee

Hearty congratulations (or should that be raise a glass?) to MBAstack, part of MSQ Partners, which has won the task of helping resurrect the classic 80s lager brand Hofmeister.

While MBAstack is bringing back Hofmeister's brand icon George the Bear (created by BMP's John Webster), the beer itself - we are assured - is very different to the weak, fizzy lager enjoyed by a previous generation. Thank god for that.

Tapping into nostalgia and brand heritage is a legitimate marketing tactic but when the brand in question was as much a joke as the ad itself (like Scottish Courage's Hofmeister), care is needed.

MBAstack's role is to raise awareness among investors as Hofmeister seeks to widen its distribution - and using an icon as familiar as George the Bear seems a smart strategy.

And unlike the old Hofmesister, the new iteration is truly Bavarian and is designed to appeal to the craft beer market rather than the post-sport lager swilling crowd of the 80s.

The return of George the Bear inspired Creative Salon to dig out some other vintage beer ads from the past. Not all have stood the test of time - indeed there are some tropes that wouldn't get off the page of a script in contemporary times. But they probably help explain beer tastes of the time - and might just raise a smile.

John Smith's

TBWA\London drafted in the Bolton comedian Peter Kay to front the advertising for the Heineken-owned John Smith's in 2002. During his three-year tenure (and he was briefly reintroduced in 2010), the ads were responsible for introducing famous phrases such as "'ave it!" and "top bombing", and for Kay trying to put his 55-year-old mother in an old people's home so he could put a snooker table in her room. We didn't choose any of them though:

Stella Artois

Lowe Howard-Spink (later Lowe London) had a 26-year-long relationship with Stella Artois that came to an end in 2008 when the business moved to Mother, which retains it.

While Lowe's fortunes changed dramatically over this period, the cinematic work that it produced for Stella Artois was of consistent quality. And rather than predictably choosing 'Ice skating priests', we chose this instead:

Holsten Pils

Griff Rhys Jones appeared as a Forrest Gump-style character in a series of Gold Greenlees Trott commercials that spoofed classic movies back in the 80s. In this film he stars alongside Marilyn Monroe from Some Like It Hot:

Carling Black Label

The two comedians Mark Arden and Stephen Frost fronted WCRS' Carling Black Label ads in the 80s. Its 1989 'Dambusters' spoof is probably the best known of the body of work but this spot - 'Mindreader' - shows the agency's sharp writing and their comic timing:

Courage Bitter

Another spot from BMP's John Webster, this 1979 ad featured the cockney singers Chas & Dave's "Gertcha" - an old East End expression that Chas translated as "Get out of it you little bastard":


In a take on Pygmalion, this 1985 spot from Lowe Howard-Spink featured the English actress Sylvestre Le Touzel as a Sloane Ranger receiving but failing in an elocution lesson at the School of Street Credibility, much to her tutor's frustration.

Her attempts fail until an assistant arrives with a six-pack of Heineken:

Humour is a consistent thread throughout these ads - as well as paying homage to or spoofing the film industry. The latter is perhaps not that surprising given that such blockbuster spots also ran on the silver screen.

While times have changed, so have drinking habits although beer consumption has continued to grow, largely buoyed by an interest in craft ale. Annual per capita consumption in the UK stands at 71 litres, according to Statista.

This has meant that only a few of the brands mentioned above, including Stella Artois, have continued to prosper and retain their creative excellence.

Others have been subsumed by bigger companies or been overtaken by changing tastes. Much like some of the agencies that made them, in fact.


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