Granted, I don't watch a lot of commercials anymore. Not since I started watching everything on DVR or on-demand. But even with a dramatic reduction in commercial viewing, that doesn't mean I'm not aware of developing trends.
I started noticing alcohol commercials. Not beer commercials, which are a distinctly different genre, but commercials for hard alcohol. I started noticing them because they all seemed to be the exact same, with slight tweaks.
Doing some YouTube research quickly confirmed the trend and the dramatic shift in marketing tone/tactics for certain hard spirits.
As a point of reference. I've included a couple older commercials below. The first, a Jack Daniels' spot from 1990
Seems like a standard commercial. Emphasizing the history, the quality of production - extolling the virtues of the beverage.
Now, another one, different in tone, from Bacardi (from some point in the 90's)
This one is all about partying and having a good time. Again, seemingly pretty typical. What you'd expect.
But when you consider commercials for the same brands now - there's a clearly different tone and way of messaging.
This is a commercial for Bacardi now.
Yeah - definitely some differences in tone right?
When I've been seeing liquor commercials - there are a couple clear things I've noticed:
- Oriented around a single dominant male character
- Dark lighting
- The character is a man of 'great experience' - by this I mean it's clearly established that he knows what he's doing without specific exposition to tell us that. To borrow a term from my book on the history of action movies, this is the 'man who knows indians' from old Westerns.
It's interesting that the commercials do this last bit in one of two ways. Either by leveraging a celebrity frontman with an established track record (see the above example with Javier Bardem), or a fictional character with some mystique.
Here are several more commercials for hard alcohol that have been on recently. See if you agree on the trend:
Here's one for 1800 Tequila:
And now Jack Daniels:
Moving on to Jose Cuervo:
And Chivas Regal:
This one, for Jameson, is a bit more story to it, but similar
I left out some others (notably the Captain Morgan series, in part because they're so long), but all of these have a very specific pattern.
They all focus on one main individual, trading on their prior experience. In some cases, Ray Liotta or Kiefer Sutherland, these are clearer histories. The others are a bit more obscure, but both the smoke monster from Lost (in the Jack Daniels ad) and Tywin Lannister (Chivas) have a specific track record of bad-assery. This is why they were chosen.
All these men have killed people (in Sutherland's case, like a million different terrorists).
But it's clear in the messaging of all these commercials. To be a badass - drink this drink. The commercials have moved so far away from describing the product that it's pretty clear it's all about the name on the bottle (and not necessarily about having a good time).
All of these, to me, can trace their lineage back to the oldest example I can remember, the successful Dos Equis campaign with the 'Most Interesting Man in the World'.
Those commercials, part of a stunningly successful campaign, seemed to establish this framework. An older knowledgeable man, with great experience, drinks Dos Equis. We don't get a reason why - it's just the way it is. So too with all these spots, which just leverage the history of their actors/characters to skip the part where you establish the back story.
I wonder if any of these campaigns have truly proven effective. After all, not every dark mysterious man can be the Most Interesting Man in the World.