Today, April 7th, is National Beer Day (I know what you're thinking--"how did I ever forget that?") and that got me thinking about the great print beer ads of the 1940’s and ‘50’s.
Much like today, each brand promoted a specific theme to its brews—some, like Schlitz, Carling, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, displayed colorful ads filled with scenery and happy people in everyday roles.
Budweiser ads evolved from the drab and serious text filled placements immediately after Prohibition ended (extolling beer and Bud as being sound economics and healthy choices ) to more colorful ones in the post-war era. Other brands of the day such as Ballantine tried various stylistic promotions including using personalities such as Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.
However, perhaps the most popular and innovative series of ads in that period (which remain very popular today) is the “Beer Belongs” campaign which ran from 1945 to 1956. The ads were produced by the U.S. Brewers Foundation in an effort to create a positive perception of beer in post-war America, and were created by the famed Walter J. Thompson agency. The history behind the campaign is as interesting as the ads themselves.
After the end of World War II, troops returning from across the pond brought back various aspects of European culture, and soon America became enamored with French wine, croissants, and fine cheese. Beer was perceived as the bar room drink of hard working blue collar guys who watched baseball and boxing and just got drunk. The beer industry became very alarmed by this trend…..sales through venues were still strong, but direct sales to home consumers began to fade as more Americans discovered the enjoyment of Merlot and chardonnay with Sunday dinner.
Enter a Mad Men marketing vision—‘Hey folks, beer’s great to drink at home too, and, golly America, it’s always been that way!’ and voila, “Beer Belongs!” ads became appearing in all major U.S. publications in 1945. The ads portrayed beer as not only a good thing, but actually a vital part of a wholesome family life. Not only that, including beer at family dinners, holidays gatherings, and important life events was actually the patriotic thing to do! Better yet, that great modern invention called “the refrigerator” meant cold beer anytime, and, after all, beer IS great just hanging around watching baseball on TV, sitting on the porch, or having a cookout . And, the ads told us, beer was also the drink of moderation. Heck, if we could defeat the Third Reich and free the world, we could enjoy drinking a beer or two in the back yard with our buddies.
The series was wildly successful; the volume of beer sold for home consumption increased by over 40% and overall beer consumption increased by over 60%. Featuring the work of over 20 of the best illustrators and artists of the era (including the famed Douglass Crockwell (who produced almost half of the 140+ ads), John Gannam, and Haddon Sundblom) these ads remain great pieces of period art, depicting various scenes of American family life including beer as a natural part of American values, liberty and freedom.
The ads’ tag line "In this friendly, freedom-loving land of ours-beer belongs...enjoy it!" says it all. We really don't need a special day to remind us of this undeniable fact, now do we?