The ad that made me start drinking lager

I remember thinking these ads were the funniest things ever. i was the first generation that had access to VCRs. that meant we could theoretically watch what we wanted. we were in fact limited to watching whatever Hollywood begrudgingly put on VHS or Betamax in 1979. I had the added incentive of growing up in the west of Ireland where the weather is simply miserable. wet, windy and cold. a great incentive to stay in and watch videos. and drink beer!

For some reason all the early films of Steve Martin were readily available on video. So we watched those A LOT. and they were really funny. This holsten pils ad campaign stole a clever technique from one of his movies and adapted it for an ad campaign.

Holsten pils was beer with a proposition: All the sugar turns to alcohol. Which to my teenage ears sounded like: this beer will get you fucked up!!!

it also came in a longneck green bottle and had green foil around the cap. champagne has foil around the cap. coincidence?

i was in!

To this day whenever I’m in a pub in London my eye instinctively searches for signs of Holsten.

This campaign was the work of one Dave Trott Esquire. You may have heard of him.

15 responses to “The ad that made me start drinking lager

  1. Thanks Vinny, but the campaign was honestly never supposed to start anyone drinking.
    It was just supposed to get lager drinkers to switch brands.
    Also it wasn’t just me that did it.
    I made the department go to see the film because I thought there was an idea in it we could use for Pils.
    Steve Henry was the only guy who could get it to work, he wrote all the first ads.
    After that it was easy, the whole department would pitch in with scripts.
    The Marilyn Monroe one above for instance was Clive Yaxley and Jerry Gallaher as I remember.
    But I’d still prefer to think we got people to switch brands.
    Sorry if it started you drinking.
    If you click on this link you can see why I’m touchy:

  2. Gee Dave, ease up on yourself. People choose to drink. An ad doesn’t make them drink. Chances are good most people learn to drink from their parents. We just expose them to more choices. Great stuff by the way. Fun campaign.

  3. I watched that interview Dave, and the interviewer clearly had a point to get across regardless of your answer. I think we all have a responsibility regarding the sales and consumption of alcohol. The government, the pub trade, the individual and the advertiser. I agree it is not our job to make people drink more, simply to get them to drink a different brand. But if we, as an industry, produce ads that entice and appeal to the young, and are aspirational to the even younger, then we are doing something wrong. Most don’t do this, but there are certainly some that do.
    The classic beer ads of the 70’s and 80’s appealed to an older age group and target audience, and is also perhaps why they stand the test of time.

    Vinny, I am looking forward to your follow up posts:
    The ad that started me eating cream cakes.
    The ad that started me taking crack cocaine.
    The ad that started me mugging old people.
    And the ad that started my interest in large scale international corporate fraud.

  4. Dave,

    I was slightly exaggerating for effect. The campaign actually was the first advertising that caused me to switch brands rather than cause me to actually start drinking beer. There was no shortage of motivators to drink beer growing up in the west of Ireland as you can imagine. It wasn’t solely your fault ;-) And I do remember you being railroaded on TV for causing binge drinking.

    This was the first beer campaign that I felt understood me and my generation. And it worked on me. It was the first time I consciously drank a beer because I related to the advertising. The Carling Black Label campaign later in that decade had a similar effect. They were the campaigns I always referenced when I worked on beer. To remember that you weren’t the audience. A much younger, more open version of you is the audience.

    Btw, when I worked in a bar in Galway I noticed that a lot of girls drank Holsten. For two reasons I think. It was still considered unladylike to be seen swilling pints (that would change!) and I remember it had the words “DIAT PILS” on the label. Now I may have been wrong, but between “all the sugar turns to alcohol” and the word “diat” on the bottle, I was convinced that they thought of it as a “diet” beer that wouldn’t make them fat.

  5. rant, i worked in the beer category for years. it is tricky because beer advertising does work best on younger people. beyond a certain age people get very set in their choices and aren’t open to opinion. i would worry more about alcoholic products designed to appeal to the underage. alcopops etc.

    up next: the ad stirred my abiding interest in transvestism!

  6. also, dave must have been a nightmare getting the clearances from the celebrities and their estates. and cost a fortune too i’d imagine.

  7. My first drink? When I was inside my mom who in 1967 it was considered fine to drink and smoke when pregnant. My first outside drink? I was 2. I waddled over to the end table in the living room and I finished the back wash of someones drink when we had company over. Advertising does not cause anyone to drink. Its the people in our lives that we see everyday that we want to be like.

    The advertising can influence. Connecting a Camel Joe ad to that person I think is way cool who smokes camels can help. But its that way cool older kid with the camels that would get me to smoke.

    I actually think its the kids stuff that is worse. Seeing treats or toys that has them begging for stuff more than a beer ad. Why? Because the treats or the toys are in the store. We don’t have them. Beer? In the fridge. Easy to sneak the forbidden fruit.

  8. i agree howie. for example, our society has agreed that alcohol is the acceptable drug to let off steam with. the competition is to be the one you drink. yes alcohol gets abused but that’s a by-product of the societal acceptance.

    i’m not sure kids are even that conscious of advertising. my kids are largely oblivious. but then they, out of choice, don’t watch a lot of TV.

    advertising is selling. and that entails putting your best foot forward. being as appealing as you can be. doesn’t matter what you’re selling.

  9. Vinnie,
    No one had used dead celebrities in ads before.
    So all we had to do was buy the films off the owners.
    We picked less famous films, not famous ones.
    So at the beginning it was all quite cheap.
    Gryff Rhys Jones was the most expensive part.
    Steve Henry shot the tests with an unknown comedian called Robbie Coltrane who was much cheaper.
    But the client wouldn’t use him because he was fat.
    And, as you say about women and ‘diat’ on the label, that’s a touchy point with beer.

  10. I always ask for a diet Guinness.

  11. But Dave, isn’t one of those films ‘Some Like It Hot’? Maybe not.

    By the way, Vinnie, The formula of Holsten Pils seems to have changed. It used to be 5.5% and absolutely delicious, then they got rid of the extra 0.5% and now it tastes like everything else.


  12. dave, any chance you could dig up the Robbie Coltrane test spots? love to see those. he was a riot. all brewers are sensitive to casting overweight people. which is a shame coz they’re usually the funniest.

    i did a campaign once that used dead celebrities in a much different (ie not funny) way. it was a legal nightmare. never again.

    ben, they messed with the alcohol content? boo!

  13. Vinny,
    You ever seen/had this?
    Off to the Great British Beer Fest in a couple of weeks. Any recommendations?

  14. yes john, i love it. nice summer wheat beer. i’m a lager person myself. lately digging the german lagers and pilsners. was back home in ireland recently. Erdinger is huge there now. loovely stuff!

  15. Hi Vinny
    Erdinger is good. You tried Bitburger?

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