The Best Beer Ads of All Time
Every creative wants to get their hands on a beer campaign. It’s one of the best opportunities to flex creative muscles in the industry. In fact, often it is one of these best beer ads of all time that have inspired young creative minds to enter the creative industries.
The beer industry is a fascinating place. The product is almost interchangeable. It is the voice of the brand that makes such an enormous difference in the mind of the purchaser. That’s why the marketing (and the packaging design) have such an outsized influence on product success. Sometimes, the brand team and the agency get it spectacularly right. And that’s what we are celebrating here in our collection of the Best Beer Ads of all time.
Table of Contents
Beer is a restricted product by age
In every market where beer (or any alcoholic product) is sold, there are typically restrictions constraining the style of messaging that a beer ad can use. Perhaps all the actors have to be older than 25, for example. There might also be restrictions about the tone of the advertising. It can’t, for example, promote drunken-ness as the catalyst for fun.
Each market has their own restrictions. Don’t let that worry you. A wise creative once yearned for the ‘freedom of a tight brief’. The restrictions are what unearths interesting solutions. For example, there’s a brilliant interview with Matt Stone and Trey Parker about their Tom Cruise ‘closet’ episode. In it they talk about how the legal minefields they had to side step resulted in the iconic creative solution that ended up in the episode. Restrictions are wonderful. Embrace them.
Beer brands are 'friends'
More than just about any other product category, beer brands are just about human. They hang out with groups of friends. They have their own personalities. Their own voices. Their own values and beliefs. Which is why every piece of communication that is made for a beer brand must be true to who they are at their core.
Because if they betray that voice, regular drinkers are going to start wondering if they want to hang out with that friend anymore. He’s changed, man. There’s something different about him. This is a lesson the marketers of Bud Light so famously learned in 2023. If you aren’t true to the heritage and voice of the brand – even in the smallest piece of social media comms – the market backlash can be swift and brutal.
So, when you are given a creative brief for a beer product, remember the following mantra. “Make it new, but make it true.” Generate ideas that are new and exciting. Different and compelling. But make sure it is true to the human being that is at the core of who the beer brand is.
Beer Approach One: Give the brand a literal voice
Miller High Life: Errol Morris Campaign
There were quite literally hundreds of these beautifully written ads made. All directed by the incredible documentary maker Errol Morris. (His documentary ‘The Fog of War’ is remarkable). Before this campaign, Miller High Life was a dying brand. It was a working class brand whose drinkers were dying out year by year.
Weiden and Kennedy got hold of the brand, and gave the brand a voice that reflected the masculine, curmudgeonly and judgmental attitudes of those drinkers in an incredibly fresh way. And this combined with the drinkers being unidentifiable. We just see lips, hands and silhouettes. It’s a perfect reference to the private, self-reflective personality of the drinker.
I deliberately put the best ad first in this compilation. But don’t stop there. Because this is the best example I can think of across pretty much any product category of giving the brand a voice. The voice builds and matures as the campaign continues.
Red Stripe Beer: Hooray Beer
This is a real blast from the past, but the endline ‘Hooray Beer’ is still one of the greatest lines ever put to a beer brand. Red Stripe is a beer from Jamaica, and the advertising (made by an agency in the UK) embraced the joyous, relaxed vibe of the Jamaican spirit with their ‘Ambassador’.
Spokespeople are very common in advertising. But rarely has a spokesperson been done as well as this. Apple ‘I’m a Mac’ campaign featuring Justin Long has some similarities to this in the way it is structured.
This Red Stripe campaign is different to the Miller High Life campaign above, but the principle is the same. The video below is a compilation of some of the best work Red Stripe did in the course of the campaign.
Beer Approach Two: Be self-deprecating and funny
If you want to make friends, sometimes you have to make yourself vulnerable. But in a good humoured, good natured way – of course.
It’s the same when you’re hanging out with a group of friends. You tell stories about your life. You laugh about the dumb things you did, and nod as we see those same weaknesses in ourselves. Infallibility is dull and artificial. Fallibility is honest and relatable. That’s why we love Homer Simpson as a character.
And honestly, no-one does this style of beer advertising better than the Australians. Much of this work was made under the watch of Ant Keogh, who we’ve done an extended profile of in our Great Creatives section. Watch and enjoy.
Carlton Draught: Slow-Mo
VB: The Regulars
A parade of Average Joes has never been so engaging. VB is an enormous beer brand in Australia, and in this piece of work they make themselves one of the guys brilliantly.
Carlton Draught: Beer Chase
The beer quite literally joins a group of criminal friends as they outrun the police. It’s handled with such delicacy and good humour, and the beer is at the centre of the action all the way throughout.
Carlton Dry: #HelloBeer
Directed by Taika Waititi before he made it big in hollywood (Ant Keogh sure knows how to spot talent). These are a series of quirky vignettes of men trying and usually failing at fun challenges and games, and being silly for the entertainment of their friends. It didn’t do as well at award shows as it should have when it was first launched, but it’s aged very very well. These were made in the early 2000’s. They could have been made yesterday.
John Smiths: Peter Kay Campaign
From the UK, John Smiths chose comedian Peter Kay to front this brilliant series of ads. He is overweight, unfiltered, but a good-natured sweetheart at the same time.
He’s making fun of himself, and we all happily relate and join in. Check his stand-up performances as well (if you can understand his accent). He’s brilliant. It’s also an amazing lesson in casting. Peter Kay is obviously playing a character, but his public persona fits perfectly with the tone of voice John Smiths were after.
The guys in this campaign aren’t particularly cool. They aren’t skydivers or climbing the corporate ladder. They are simply average doofuses who like to have a beer and an in-joke with their friends. One of whom is the beer brand Budweiser.
Every man has been in this state of mind before. Budweiser have captured that moment and made us laugh at ourselves inside that moment. That’s what makes it one of the best beer ads of all time.
Beer Approach Three: Make fun of the Rules
This is the super self-aware approach where beer brands look at how people have been spoken to by advertising in the past, and make fun of it.
Carlton Draught: Big Ad
This is a parody of an incredibly famous British Airways ad from the 1980’s.
From today’s viewpoint, the British Airways ad looks unnecessarily bloated and obnoxiously expensive. Carlton Draught saw that too (more than 20 years ago), and repurposed it to build their irreverant tone of voice. Brilliant. The product is at the heart of the communications, and the work made the brand world-famous overnight. This was truly one of the first viral videos – shared only via email since it pre-dated YouTube and other video sharing platforms.
John Smiths: No Gimmicks
Before Peter Kay took over the John Smiths advertising, the used another comedian – Jack Dee. Jack had a much dryer, sarcastic sense of humour. Most of the work pulled apart advertising norms about beer advertising. The ad below was his, and the brand’s finest moment. So meta, so awesome. It’s a shame so few people remember this piece of work.
Miller Lite: Made by Dick
This was an incredibly interesting way to make left-field work fit into a format.
The agency created a character called ‘Dick’ who was an advertising genius. Dick was just a drawing, but they created a top-and-tail format which allowed absolutely anything to go in-between. The first ad – Wrestlers – is an all-time classic brilliant piece of work. I wish I was able to find a better resolution video.
Newcastle Brown: If we made it
God I love the sheer chutzpah of this campaign. Newcastle Brown wanted to make a superbowl ad, but they just couldn’t afford it. So Droga 5 came up with the idea of an ad that doesn’t get made, and the actors complaining about not getting the job.
They didn’t pay for a media placement in that year’s superbowl. But they won the superbowl advertising race that year. That’s why this is one of the greatest beer ads of all time.
Beer approach Four: Create a style of story-telling
Sometimes you can tell what is being advertised in the first few seconds just by the look and feel of a piece of work. There might be an accompanying piece of music that hints to it as well. Some beer brands have been extraordinarily successful this way.
These ads have been made for decades now, tied together by the ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ brand promise and a style of story-telling that highlights the French heritage and the longing of the everyday man to be able to taste a Stella Artois for themselves.
Heineken have done this not once, but twice. The first compilation is of the famous ‘Touches the parts other beers can’t reach’ campaign. It was an enormous success in the UK, until it was decided it was time to refresh the brand. Usually an incredibly treacherous process for a brand to go through.
But they hit the jackpot with ‘The Entrance’. Buildin an aesthetic of an updated 60’s technicolor vibe that informed later work like ‘The Party’ and ‘The Odyssey’.
Holsten Pils: Griff Rhys-Jones
Pre-dating Forrest Gump, the film that made the technique famous. These ads put an imagined character always played by Griff Rhys-Jones into old films and creatively turned the content into fun stories about beer. The black and white style and hilarious banter made the beer famous. And the style continued for many years.
Below the compilation, which is the first video below, I’ve added a bonus Holsten Pils ad. It’s not really the style, but the copywriting in it is next level excellent.
It’s not just the enduring brand line ‘Good Things Come to those that Wait’ that holds the Guiness advertising together. It’s also the look of a Guiness ad, and the perspective Guiness has on the world around us.
To be fair, Guiness has changed their look from time to time. The ‘Noitulove’ ad looks different to the other two we are profiling. And it’s not the only time they’ve done that.
It’s a real strength of the Guiness brand that they aren’t slavish to that style. They’re prepared to bend their own rules from time to time – just as long as the message is coming from a place that is consistent with the truth of the brand. Guiness have made many of the best beer ads of all time. Here are some of my favorites – including some younger creatives might not have ever seen. But they’re still great even today.
Beer Approach Five: Tell an Extraordinary Story
And those stories don’t have to be real either. In fact, the more lateral, strange and unexpected, the better.
Budweiser: Frogs / Lizards
Yes, Frogs was great. But the way the creatives leapt off the Frogs ad and created the Lizards campaign is simply breat-taking. It became an involved soap opera of how two lizards – one vengeful, one resigned – and how they want to usurp the frogs and become the Budweiser spokes-lizards.
Budweiser Lizards were remarkably well formed characters that would have done even more amazing things in today’s fragmented media environment. The Lizards video has all the ads in the series. Definitely worth a watch. Incredible script writing and amazing puppetry.
Dos Equis: The Most Interesting Man in the World
The most amazing man in the world drinks Dos Equis. That concept could have so easily become dull and patronising. But it didn’t. Because of excellent copywriting and a distinctive tone of voice. The story of the Most Interesting Man in the World was compelling and funny. And just perhaps, it might make a drinker think that if they were to buy a bottle of Dos Equis, perhaps a little bit of that interesting might rub off on them too.
Bud Light: The Dilly Dilly Campaign
Before Bud Light was the victim of a tragic misunderstanding-their-core-drinker accident, they were making some really brilliant work. This dilly dilly campaign was silly as all hell and made no rational sense. But it was likeable, and the brand was at the core of the communications. Get that formula right, and you’ve got an oportunity for some extraordinary story-telling.
Beer Approach Six: Make fun of your heritage
Talking about the quality of the water used, or the care taken in picking the best hops from the vines is a well-worn trope in beer advertising. But those ads aren’t in this collection. Because to be one of the best beer ads of all time, you have to do that in a way that tells that story in a much more compelling way.
Pure Blonde: From a Place Purer than yours
This takes that pure-bred brief, and tells the story with a twist. Surprising and great.
Boddingtons: The cream of Manchester
These ads celebrated the straight-talking, self-deprecating Manchester attitude by parodying themselves with classy advertising. Excellent rug pulls with both. The print campaign was different, but still remain some of the best print advertising for beer that have ever been done. Again – think of this idea in terms of today’s social media environment. There is so much that could be done.
Beer Approach Seven: Do something completely different
Some pieces of work are incredibly difficult to categorise. This first one for Carlsberg is one of my favorites of all time. It’s not as well known as it should be. It was so far before it’s time. Take a look. Incredibly cool.
Carlsberg: Best Friends
A real test set up to see just how much your friends have got your back. Unfortunately our version of this video is partially blocked – so if you can’t see it where you live, search for the title in YouTube and you’ll find it.
Tooheys Dry: Tongue
This in fact could be part of a category of ‘the best tasting most refreshing beer’.
Did we miss one?
We would love this to become a comprehensive resource, so if you’d like some more beer ads included in here, reach out and we’ll do our best to find it and bring it to you.
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