A Potted History of Alcohol Advertising and THAT Self-Driving Budweiser Truck

While our love (-hate?) affair with alcohol is said to have begun somewhere in the Stone Age with beer jugs providing evidence of intentional fermentation, the promotion of alcohol did not begin in earnest until the abolition of Advertising Duty in 1853.

Until then, brewers in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries concentrated on promoting places that beer could be drunk, rather than what was being drunk, with public house signs the first visual nod towards alcohol availability. Listings in newspapers were limited to a few lines, promoting the completion of a local brewing cycle and therefore the availability of the product.

The first examples of marketing alcohol

The listings lines became more fanciful and descriptive once the Advertising Duty was lifted, but even then it was more common to learn about the availability of a new product or popular brew by word of mouth. Brewers tended to be socially mobile and politically affiliated, spreading the word through their social circles, while travelling salesmen would attend fairs and promote their wares up and down the country.Philippa Glanville (Curator of the Exhibition “Drink – The History of Alcohol” at the National Archives) notes that “Water supplies in Britain were hazardous, as water treatment plants were yet to be introduced. As a result of this, although spirits were viewed as deleterious, beer was considered to be nutritious and healthy.”  This went hand in hand with the Temperance Movement which saw beer being promoted for its purity and health benefits.

old newspaper advert showing how alcohol advertising used to be carried out
Credit: Joe Haupt (Flickr)

Modern alcohol advertising trends

The introduction of the Trade Marks Act in 1875 was the game-changer. With brands able to use recognisable images consistently, the alcohol promotion industry changed forever. Bass and Guinness were the first to capitalise and we would still recognise the slogans they used. These slogans began appearing on posters and signs, ending up on clocks, calendars and the myriad of merchandise we see today.

The initial trend towards health benefits could explain the first tendency of ‘lifestyle’ advertising towards sporting activity, with adverts in the early 20th Century linking alcohol products with middle-class sporting activities like golf and cricket. An increase in ‘Beer Duty’ in the 1930s led to a decline in consumption, which was followed, of course, by a surge in advertising. Lager and keg brands appeared throughout the ‘60s and 70s – and a study by United Breweries in the 1960s revealed the popularity of lager with women and younger drinkers. 

Responsible alcohol advertising

This study was perhaps where the industry went awry (although this post demonstrates some of the more ridiculous adverts we’ve seen!) as it paved the way for targeted adverts towards the young. Between 1955 and 1979 spending on alcohol advertising soared from £2.2 million to £33.4 million. The damaging effect of all this targeted spending, along with the emergence of an Advertising Standards Authority meant that Codes of Practice were introduced in 1975 and the more questionable examples of alcohol advertising were banned. More recently the branding of packaging and the promotion of venues across social media means there is still work to be done to protect the vulnerable and a healthy debate is underway regarding self-regulation of the industry..

Alcohol and mobile advertising

Alcohol and mobile advertising have always been closely linked, with the very first real adverts being considered the Dray Carts with their company name and later, logos, on the side or above the driving seat. This tradition persists today and well known brands blazoned across truck curtains and lorry rear ends are a common sight on our UK roads.

There have been some awesome creative design campaigns over the years too, with notable examples including Worthington’s 1920s bottle shaped lorry, Heineken’s more recent design creating a beer can from the truck itself, as well as the Coors Light 3D truck!. Budweiser went one step further in recent years by partnering with Otto (uber’s self drive brand) to create “the most futuristic beer run in history”!

Here at DrivenMedia we work with brands across a variety of industries. If you’ve been inspired and would like to see your beverage (or any other product!) blazoned across our partner fleets (here’s some that are already working with us), please do get in touch.

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