The recent revivification of Wassup! has made me nostalgic for my beer advertising days. I, and several other Escape Podders spent years working in that category. Personally I loved it. And not just because I got to drink a lot of free beer. OK, that was part of it, but it was also great fun selling fun. And on a big scale. For many years Superbowl season – half the year basically – was our focus. Win the Superbowl! At all costs!
I was also attracted to working in the category because I’m good at it and I know that i’m good at it. How do I know I’m good at it? I spent my formative years working in a very busy pub in Ireland. And in that time I got to learn a a huge lesson first-hand: you have to create the right environment, the one that induces drinking. that’s the whole trick.
For example, the pub i worked in had carpeting everywhere. just like your house does. it had comfortable seating. just like your house does. but your house doesn’t have a bar in it. and it’s probably cold and windy and raining outside anyway. so staying in the pub wins, going home to your house loses!
But the interesting thing about the pub – The Lion’s Tower, so named because it stood near a tower of the same name in the old medieval city wall – was that it started out as a terrible pub.
The owners had a vision of the kind of bar they themselves would like to drink in. And that vision was upscale. The bartenders wore waistcoats and bow ties initially. Inoffensive muzak played quietly in the background. And it worked. The pub attracted people like the owners. Middle aged middle class couples out for a drink to get away from the kids. The only problem was they drank f**k all. maybe six drinks between the two of them all night. and as you can imagine, it was crushingly boring to work there. there was no action.
After a couple of excruciating and not very profitable years like this, it dawned on the owners that young Irish people drank a hell of a lot more than their parents. Ireland had inherited England’s stupid World War One licensing laws. all pubs shut before midnight. consequently people (young irish people!) were drinking against the clock. and boy could they drink! it was pure insanity.
so out went the bow ties and waistcoats. and in came much better and much louder music and cool lighting. same comfy furnishings. and boom! the place went nuts. the legal drinking age was 18. but it was loosely enforced. suddenly, we had to hire bouncers to keep order. the scent of your dad’s cologne was replaced by the occasional pungent whiff of hash. we were selling hundreds of kegs of beer a week. we would get through a hundred kegs of guinness alone. each keg with ninety pints in it. 100 x 90 = 9000 pints of guinness alone each week. one year we went through ten thousand pounds worth of pint glasses alone. this was back in the ’80s. that was a lot of money and a mind-boggling amount of broken pint glasses.
This place was hopping like I’ve never seen since. you’d think we were giving it away. there were two bars in the pub. A straight up long bar against a wall and an oval bar. I favored working the oval bar. because the place was so packed it felt like you were on stage. Everyone desperately vying for your attention. and we were the fastest bartenders in town. to this day it irks me to see a bartender take just one customer’s order at a time. we would do three orders at a time and fill them at the same time in the most efficient manner possible. to stay hydrated we drank southern comfort and coke.
And because I was in my teens, and it kind of happened in slow motion, over years, it made a huge impression on me. we went from being a dead ghost town to being the biggest hit pub in a town with a lot of really great pubs. For example, there was a pub down the road called “The King’s Head”. It was the oldest pub in town. It got its name because the original owner was the guy who actually chopped King Charles III’s head off. That pub, and exile to ireland, was the executioner’s reward. Hence the name. There are lots of English pubs that have that same name. but this pub earned it the hard way. by chopping off a king’s head. that’s hardcore good pub heritage. that’s tough to compete with.
Soooooooooooo…years later, when i finally got the chance to do a tv ad for beer, i came preloaded with the real-world knowledge of what it takes to sell a lot of beer: you create the right vibe, it happens.
Maybe not unsurprisingly, the very first bud light commercial i created was a big hit — no bow ties or waistcoats to be seen! and it was named best beer spot of the year by Ad Age. i was back selling beer again. albeit on a much bigger scale than The Lion’s Tower. and the Lion’s Tower was a very busy pub. so that’s really saying something.