Sunday, 3 February 2013

“I was curious...”

This campaign for Schlitz beer followed a three part formula beginning with an image of awakening interest in bottled beer, captioned “I was curious” and a concluding frame in which the two male protagonists exchange glances of shared understanding of the merits of Schlitz whilst strenuously avoiding any suggestion that their camaraderie is based on anything other than healthy and hearty man to man companionship. The female presence is ornamental and confined to handing round the drinks. Like the industry sponsored Beer Belongs campaign where beer belongs anywhere but in a bar, the setting is either the great outdoors or the airport-sized lounges of the executive suburbs. Schlitz and Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) were locked in mortal combat for market leadership throughout the 1950s and the advertising spend must have been colossal as the lead passed back and forth. 

It was the age of the illustrator and photography remained in the back seat. Indeed the only photographs on view are hand-painted – see the final example, one of the rare examples to show any imagination in which two gents browse a photo album. Aware of any relationship ambiguities, the artist has highlighted the wedding rings. Most Schlitz campaigns were illustrator-led and kept a lot of artists in steady employment producing genre scenes and hyper-real condensation coated foaming glasses. Social acceptability was the ultimate goal – this meant promoting moderation in consumption without threatening sales volume, not an easy trick to pull off. Fate caught up with the Schlitz brand in the 1970s in a textbook case of disastrous mismanagement designed to cut costs by accelerating the brewing process. They employed silica gel as a stabiliser and then replaced it with another additive that produced a beer that appeared to have mucus floating in it. By the time the business collapsed into the arms of a competitor its value was less than 10% of what it had been only 8 years earlier. The entire saga is explained in great detail by the Beer Connoisseur. There’s more to follow on both Schlitz and great rival, Budweiser. 

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