Tag Archives: ireland

Back to Ireland for a week.

Taking the kids back to the mother land for some Irish hospitality today. So nae blogging for me!

The housekeeper in this scene (played by the amazing Pauline McLynn) grew up down the street from me. Hilarious and true.

How to crack an alien culture. Part 2

(This is part 2 of an ongoing series. You can read part one here)

You could argue that the German culture is the opposite of the Irish culture. We both like a beer or twelve but there the similarities pretty much end. Oh and we both share an historical animosity towards the English (the Germans’ cousins btw. Anglo-SAXONS…innit).

So when my partner and I got an assignment to create a Volkswagen ad to run in Germany, i felt nervous. The good part was we got to party in Berlin in the middle of summer for two weeks. The Berlin office of the international ad agency we worked for, headed by inestimable Amir Kassaei, felt that bringing in outsider perspectives would be a good thing. So an “American” team (us) and a crazy good Dutch team (Bart Kooij and Nico Akkerman) worked together. Well it started out as work and quickly degenerated into play. Berlin in the summer is a great place. After a briefing at the agency and a trip to the really cool VW factory in Wolfsburg we settled into a routine of going to bars and cafes and drinking beer and chatting and coming up with ideas. 15 hours a day! The Dutch clearly are prone to dehydration.

i soon emerged as the killjoy wet blanket who felt the need to do something culturally apt. Our Dutch counterparts worked on the Volkswagen business and knew the client well. so the conditions were good.

and then i went and did something so spectacularly stupid and awful that i cannot repeat it in this blog. but it had the effect of me falling in love with Germany and Germans in an instant. if you really need to know what it was i will be happy to email you. but the memory of it still pains me. it is not for public consumption.

the net/net effect was that i was suddenly really motivated to make Germany feel good. that was the silver lining. anyway the commercial below was the idea of ours that was chosen by the client. And i have to say Amir and company did a great job with the execution. I remember being emailed the final spot, which i wasn’t even aware had been shot, and being prepared to wince. And was actually pleasantly surprised. The director Sebastian Strasser did a great job. And i would like to apologize to Sebastian’s production company for the infamous “Felix Glauner Incident” at the Berlin Art Directors awards show dinner one year later. I will also be happy to email you the excruciating details of that one if you really must know. Again, too painful to recount here.

Turns out I have a knack for annoying Germans. But they like my ads. This commercial was a big hit in Germany. And then ran all over over Europe. It was the fifth most awarded commercial in the world in 2005. I like this one because i consider it the cultural equivalent of a German guy working on a Guinness ad for Ireland. And somehow it all worked. I was surprised, put it that way.

Booze. It’s all in your head.

My recent post about the Irish pub i worked in aroused a funny memory of my time there. And an important lesson for marketers of alcoholic beverages.

It’s that drinkers’ choices of brands are based entirely on criteria that exist solely and uniquely in their heads. People will swear their choice of lager tastes better and that they could pick it out in a taste test. They’ll usually have some “reason” in their head why they’re right.

And it makes sense that it would be this way. People have no way, other than their taste buds, of telling what’s good and what isn’t good. But the drink you hold in your hand says something about you. So people, young people especially, don’t want to make the “wrong”choice. But they’re not going to ask someone what they should drink, are they? That would be weak.

So they kind of need to convince themselves of their own drink choices. They look for exterior justification. Is the lager from Germany? Great. Is the ale from Belgium or England? Great…etc..They look to rationally justify their purchase. At various points in the ’80s, in Ireland, Australian lagers came into vogue (“it’s hot in the outback, they must know refreshment” was the justification there), higher-alcohol German pilsners were also big for obvious reasons. And Heineken was everyone’s default lager. Solid choice. The Dutch know how to have fun! Btw, Heineken tastes a hell of a lot better in Europe, where it’s actually brewed.

Back to the story. So, late in the 1980s, some idiot beer marketer decided that it would be a great idea to introduce Colt 45 malt liquor to Ireland. Now having lived here in the USA for a long time, it’s even funnier to me that someone would ever have thought that this was a good idea. It was a lousy idea. Malt liquor, to Irish ears, sounded like American for whiskey. You want us to drink pints of beer-lookin’ whiskey??? And the advertising didn’t help. It assumed we knew what malt liquor was. Consequently, drinkers were afraid to ever even try it. They didn’t know what the hell it was.

So, in a desperate effort to boost sales, the distributor decided to hold an inter-pub competition to see who could sell the most Colt 45 in Ireland. The prize was a free holiday in sunny Spain. And Galway’s weather consisted of year-round merciless and constant lashing rain from the angry Atlantic ocean. So that was a very appealing prize.

Now all the popular Guinness-produced draft beers — Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks — shared a similar idiot-proof keg-tapping mechanism. But the European beers – Heineken and Carlsberg – shared a slightly less well designed, more tricky tapping mechanism. Colt 45 kegs were identical in every way to the European kegs. So one of the bar staff hit on a genius idea: at a certain point in the night switch the Heineken lines over to Colt 45 kegs. The reasoning being that the customers would have had about five pints by then and they wouldn’t notice the drastic difference in taste. They were, after all, mostly young and drinking primarily for effect.

And it worked. Because we were insanely busy and sold a lot of Heineken we drained our Colt 45 kegs dry in a matter of hours. Now that it had suddenly become Heineken! I remember feeling nervous but the older bartenders were very confident that no one would notice a thing. We didn’t get a single complaint. And there was quite a wild disparity between the taste profiles of the two beers. But because they had been conditioned to thinking it was Heineken, they swigged it back without batting an eyelid. Hey, it was lager-looking and carbonated. And someone they trusted, me, had just sold it them as Heineken. So it must be Heineken. I couldn’t believe it.

The bar effortlessly won the Colt 45 competitition. Alas, I was part-time so wasn’t eligible to go to Spain. And Colt 45 never took off in Ireland. But it might now. Play up the hip-hop/gangsta connection. Fiddy Cent is huuuuuge in Ireland. I could totally sell malt liquor to Ireland. Now. It’s a good idea in 2008. In 1988, not so much.