I don’t always pay attention to beer ads, but when I do, it’s because they involve Gilbert and Sullivan

Football season is starting, and that means, among other things, a lot of commercials that I’ll have to mute in order to better ignore them.  Many of these commercials will be for beer and, since I am a teetotaler, will be wasted on me.  Of course, the commercials rarely show much of the drink they’re supposed to be selling.  Generally, the drink is only a background element to the key motifs of these ads, which are

  1. Women in swimsuits
  2. A bunch of “cool dudes” hanging out together.

See my post about whether advertising is a waste of money.

But the types of beer advertising are many and varied. Yesterday I discovered one that seemed calculated to attract even my attention–of course, it was almost 50 years old.  It was a book of lyrics, written to Gilbert and Sullivan tunes, in praise of Guinness beer. (The G&S Archive has it here.) To quote from the Archive’s description: “In the 1960s, Guinness produced a series of books adver5tising [sic] their products to be put in doctors’ surgeries (on the basis that ‘Guinness is good for you’)”

This makes it especially amusing to me that the first page of the book features an illustration of Jack Point, one of only two Gilbert and Sullivan characters to “die” onstage, holding a glass of Guinness.  Come to think of it, why didn’t they include the other one, John Wellington Wells?  Did they feel that the character of a dishonest seller of magical potions and diabolical brews wasn’t quite right for the ads?

I laugh at it, but the truth is that this is a far more creative and ingenious bit of advertising craft than the “get a model in a bikini and have her tell people to buy our product” method.    Still not sure about the “Guinness is good for you” business, especially the song about the Heavy Dragoon who builds muscle by drinking beer, but still, an “A” for effort.

I think the English/Irish beer advertising seems to be very creative.  There was a television ad for Whitbread Beer (which I’ve never even heard of otherwise) that featured a parody of the song “Abdul Abulbul Amir“. It’s the catchiest advertising jingle I’ve ever heard.


  1. Mad Men learned quickly that sex sells, the problem today is that bikini’s are outdated with all the gonzo porn men are watching now. They have to get the public’s attention somehow and can’t go that far. Maybe going back to wittier writing would work.

    1. I think it might. The most memorable ads are the ones that stand out, so in advertising, I think it’s better to try to be different than just do what everyone else is doing, only better.

      Of course, if the ghosts of W.S. Gilbert, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde all got together and wrote the world’s wittiest ad copy, I wouldn’t notice, because I ignore ads. But maybe I’m the exception that proves the rule.

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