...How Boddingtons reinvented funny beer ads. Part 2: the TV ads
So here’s a funny thing:
This time last week I wrote about Boddingtons 1990s’ print ads, here. Shortly afterwards I started getting emails from various readers of Brands & Humour. One email named the actor in several Boddingtons TV ads. Another message simply read:
‘Do you want a flake in that love?’
Yet another email read:
‘That Gladys Althorpe? She never buys her own.’
What are these lines? They are verbatim dialogue taken from Boddingtons’ TV ads that — get this — haven’t been on TV for at least a quarter of a century.
Why mention this? Well, put simply, it gives you an idea of how effective their ads were. The TV ads were so memorable because a) they were very watchable and b) they were very, very funny.
So: why did they stand out?
To answer this, we’ve got to look first at other beer ads. In broad terms, the 1980s was a golden age for beer advertising in the UK. You had great long-running campaigns like I Bet He Drinks Carling Black Label:
…or Hofmeister’s Follow the Bear:
Both lovely stuff. But here’s the thing — look closely and you’ll see these ads featured lads in pubs with pints:
…Or lads in pubs with pints and, er, a lifesize cuddly toy:
At the dawn of the 90s, Boddingtons were having none of this. It was as if they asked: “Why set it in a pub? We’re selling pints, not pubs.” So they put the pint in a luxury, high-end commercial, which spoofed a cosmetics ad:
Or one which spoofed a Cornetto ad, transplanted from sophisticated Venice to grimy Manchester.
These weren’t just pastiches. They also cleverly broadened out the audience: this was a beer that could be enjoyed by women as well as men. And, back in 1993, that was still a rather radical thought.
Moreover, when they did decide to set their ads in a pub, they decided to go for an S&M club where the locals sport leather and latex. Hey, why not?
This is a great example (below): you see a man in a tuxedo, sitting at a grand piano. What do you expect? You expect greatness, perhaps a Chopin masterpiece, but instead you get him barely able to play a thing.
There’s another reason why these ads work so well: an ancient comic technique called bathos. Bathos is defined “the sudden appearance of the commonplace in otherwise elevated matter or style.”
What’s more, you don’t just get this in drama. Here’s a lovely example of bathos in graphic art, courtesy of Monty Python:
Likewise, with the Boddingtons ads, they use the ‘sudden appearance of the commonplace’ at the climax of every ad. We go from the finery of Venice to ‘That Gladys Althorpe, she never buys her own.’ Each line is delivered in the last third/quarter of the ad
Alas, though, there’s a sad end to this story. Boddingtons closed down in 2005: the brewery was turned into a car park and, as of 2019, was set to be transformed into ‘a £175m housing, retail and commercial development called Old Brewery Gardens’.
But in advertising terms, at least, these ads left quite a legacy. They took the pint out of the pub, and led to brands like Guinness using humour that, only a few years earlier, was just never seen in beer ads. These included a snail with a cold (below); given Guinness’ huge global success, that’s an ad not to be sniffed at.
…Before signing off: many thanks to all of you who entered the Lunch & Learn prize draw. I got a full-to-the-brim hatful of entries from brands and agencies based in the UK, the US, Australia, South Africa, and all over Europe.
The lucky winner? Jennie Watson of Papier, New York & London. Well done Jennie!
If you didn’t win, you’re not going away empty-handed. I’m going to contact everyone who entered to say a big thank you and offer a free chat on Zoom about any aspect of humour and marketing.
Many thanks for reading,
Book a meeting with me here
+44 7866 538 233
Hat tips galore to: Ali Coysh, Alistair King and Charlie Griffiths.
Jeff Stark, who directed the commercial, was interviewed about it many years later. He noted: ‘I told Anna [Chancellor, the actor] to drink the beer like a man and then wipe the froth from her mouth as she sat in the gondola. When she did, the lipstick smeared up her cheek. The makeup woman rushed over and said: ‘You can’t do that!’ But I said: ‘Hang on! That’s really funny.’” Source: Jeffries, Stuart: “By ’eck it’s gorgeous’: how a 1993 beer advert changed Manchester,” The Guardian, 28th June 2019.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare & Monty Python, vol. 1: Monty Python, Eyre Methuen, 1981. My father had this book on the lounge bookshelf when I was a kid. Dad, I can’t thank you enough.
Perfume spoof ad: 41 seconds, line delivered at 29 seconds
Gondola ad: 44 seconds, line delivered at 28 seconds
S&M bar: 39 seconds, line delivered at 32 seconds.
(Geeky about ads? Moi?).
Jeffries, Stuart: op. cit.