Modern Marketing Brand Strategy

8 of the best beer ads of all time

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By Kenneth Hein | Editor

March 17, 2022 | 8 min read

Happy St Patrick’s Day to all. In honor of this festive holiday, The Drum staff are offering up 8 of the best beer ads of all time. From Guinness to Tiger Beer to even Strohs, we toast the finest sales pitches for suds.

Guinness: ‘Surfer’ (1999)

You can’t celebrate St Paddy’s Day without a wee Guinness or two, right? In line with this tradition, I have picked the iconic ‘90s ad ‘Surfer’ from the Irish stout purveyors. In the bold, monochrome commercial by creative agency AMV BBDO and filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, a man bides his time, waiting to ride the perfect wave, symbolic of the wait for the three-parts pour of the perfect Guinness. As the drumbeat by Leftfield (Phat Planet) slowly gains momentum in the background, the surfer enters the water as a team of wild horses clash with the rapidly-moving wave. It’s a race between the surfer and the stampede. The voiceover narrates: “He waits. That’s what he does. And I’ll tell you what. Tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick.”

I was about 10 years old when this ad aired, so I definitely wasn’t down at the pub drinking of an evening, but I’m quite a nostalgic person so thinking back on the TV, music and culture of the late ‘90s, it brings a smile to my face.

Guinness surfers

We like beer ads – this one especially

Amy Houston, reporter

Bud Light: ‘Game of Thrones’ (2019)

I wasn’t alone in finding Bud Light’s Dilly Dilly thing a bit annoying. For Super Bowl LIII, the brewer likely acknowledged this and had the Mountain from Game of Thrones kill the Bud Knight in brutal fashion before the Bud kingdom was torched by a dragon. It’s as big a budget as an ad can have and it’s stuck with me, which so few Super Bowl ads do. I mean, Budweiser’s ‘Wassup’ is actually my favorite, which Bud Light even remade recently. More about that below.

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John McCarthy, media editor

Budweiser: ‘Wassup’ (1999)

‘Wassup’ is a hilarious depiction of friends enjoying Buds while connecting in the old-fashioned way: yelling a shared greeting via a landline. It aired during Super Bowl XXXIV and its signature catchphrase became a cultural phenomenon. It was parodied in Scary Movie and served as punchline on talk shows. The ad was so popular that it inspired a series of follow-up spots that iterated on the original theme, including ‘Wassup girlfriend,’ ‘Wassup grandmas,’ ‘Wassup wasabi’ and even one of the earliest internet memes ‘Wassup Superfriends.’

The campaign was so successful, there were reports that it helped Anheuser-Busch boost sales by some 2.4m barrels. Countless other iterations of the ad (and even co-branded Twitter trolling) have appeared throughout the years, including as recently as 2020, when the beer brand partnered up with Uber to launch a modern twist on the old classic, and in the fall of 2021, when Today show anchors recreated the original in a Halloween stunt. It’s my favorite beer ad because of its timeless, juvenile humor that somehow seems to keep resonating with us all.

Kendra Clark, senior reporter

Strohs: ‘Alex, the beer drinking dog’ (1984)

The best ad ideas are so simple. Plus, it never hurts to feature a dog... I suspect many of our global readers have never seen this classic spot where a poker-playing dog owner has taught his canine a nifty trick. To the amazement of this friends, he sends Alex to the kitchen to fetch two beers. I can just imagine the audio folks laughing as they captured the sounds of the two bottles being opened and then Alex happily lapping up the lager. Speaking of Alexs, the whole ‘80s Family Ties Alex P Keaton throwback attire definitely adds to the goofiness of the spot. Sadly, the ad proved to be more durable than the beer brand itself, which is largely unavailable this St Patrick’s Day.

Kenneth Hein, US editor

Tiger Beer: ‘Yet here I am’ (2020)

One of the most famous Singapore exports, Tiger Beer, is known to push people to have the courage to step forward and follow their own path to success by defying the odds. This is core to its ‘Uncaging your tiger’ positioning. One can have an ice-cold Tiger Beer at a local hawker center in Singapore, but then again one could also be sipping a Tiger while flying business class on Singapore Airlines. It’s a brand that constantly defies conventions.

Shawn Lim, reporter, Asia Pacific

Busch: ‘Head for the mountains’ (1979)

Here it is, my all-time favorite beer commercial. The original ‘Head for the mountains’ spot from Busch was unleashed upon the world in a blaze of glory in 1979. It’s just glorious. The lyrics, the footage, everything is hilariously over-the-top. I’m still not sure if this was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek or not. I’m just so glad that the brand revived the song for its recent Super Bowl ad.

Webb Wright, reporter

Carlsberg: ‘Ice Cold In Alex’ (late 1980s)

What better advert could there be for a cold one than this climactic scene from Ice Cold In Alex? The movie itself, a classic 1958 British war flick, follows a desperate ambulance crew as they retreat across the desert to Alexandria. Alcoholic protagonist Captain Anson promises his friends that if they all survive, he’ll take them all for a pint in the city – a promise he keeps.

The scene earned a second life as a Carlsberg ad in the eighties. It was a raffish response to a campaign by rivals Holsten Pils, which inserted that beer into war movies artificially. Carlsberg countered with an actual movie scene featuring its beer, remarking that even after 40 years, it was ‘still probably the best lager in the world.’ Actor John Mills, who played Anson, would likely agree – the scene required him to down a pint of real Carlsberg. Naturally it took a few takes to get right.

Sam Bradley, senior reporter

Heineken: ‘The entrance’ (2011)

Heineken’s 2011 ad spot set the tone for the brand over the next decade and beyond. Featuring the song Golden Age from The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, the spot features a sharply-dressed man entering an embassy packed with larger-than-life characters. He then performs flawlessly as a musician, martial artist and ambassador. It marked a transition in Heineken’s overall marketing strategy, and directly presaged its role as chief alcohol sponsor for the Bond franchise. Before this spot it would have been unthinkable that the vesper martini and Scotch and soda-loving superspy would instead pick a mid-market beer as his tipple of choice. But the green bottles and red star of Heineken soon became a mainstay of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond. That’s the association with a lifestyle that any brand would (license to) kill for.

Chris Sutcliffe, senior reporter

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