Advertising whiz Jerry Della Femina, who not only lived but epitomized the high life depicted in the TV series “Mad Men,” once tried to sell light beer and couldn’t.
He writes in his entertaining 1971 bestseller, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor,” how his brilliant campaign for Gablinger’s Diet Beer, a product of Rheingold Breweries, failed to persuade suds-lovers to switch brands in order to cut calories.
Forced to explain how his judgment could have been so wrong, the ad maven whines that he didn’t initially understand how beer-drinkers — being some sort of primitive blue-collared species — actually took pride in their distended guts, and considered the word “Diet” as anathema.
Others would simply say that both the product and its ad support missed the mark by miles.
Gablinger’s happened along, way back in 1967. A decade would pass before Miller Lite and Natural Light from Anheuser-Busch would emerge to create a sector category. Today three of the four leading beer brands are “light,” as are six of the top 10. That would make these diluted brews the new normal. And that, in turn, would force some brewing industry executive to spur the introduction of an Extreme Light as the new, um, light.
Hence, Molson Canadian 67: a beer so light, that, as the joke might go, you hardly need bother. As much as I’d like to think that the “67” name is there to honor the year of both the birth of Gablinger`s and the Canadian centennial, it actually refers to the number of calories in a 12-ounce bottle. That compares with an even 100 calories in conventional light beer, or 150 or so in the full-strength variety. (Here’s a private message for Stephanie DeSutter of Molson, who spun the following prevarication to Marketing Magazine: “When people automatically think there’s anywhere from 200 to 250 calories per bottle of beer, there’s definitely a great opportunity for a brand like 67 to come in and make that calorie call-out.” Which people? Badly misinformed people who can’t read the nutritional information on their beer label? That’s the market you’re targeting?)
There have been other ultra-low calorie lagers before, and they’ve all been rejected by consumers. I used to buy something called Alta, a product of the Blitz-Weinhard brewery in Portland, that also hit the scales at 67 calories. It was quite tasteless indeed, but kept a fellow hydrated, and the price was right for school-kid budgets. I can’t imagine that the new Molson product will be any better, or any good at all, but the marketers seem determined to avoid Jerry Della Femina’s last-century missteps.
The National Post newspaper reports that Molson is using a blog-trolling service called Radian 6 to scope out comments about the new brew, and an article adds that the company will “respond to those consumers in what it calls ‘Direct to Drinker’ engagement.” I guess we’ll see exactly how that works, but if you’re planning on engaging this blogger, Ms. DeSutter, please leave the stepped-on suds in your office.
Now, if Jerry Della Femina had personally showed up on your granddad’s doorstep, and instructed him to drink Gablinger’s, well, things might have played out differently. JDF is a biggish gentleman whose shaved-head-and-beard was a trademark in the days when he, along with Shel Silverstein, Yul Brenner and the fictive pair of Mr. Clean and Lex Luther, were the only lads sporting that particular look. Then Kojak and Michael Jordan joined the gang. Now, the denuded-skull-with-goatee is the other side of the new normal, accompanied by a weak beer in front of you, to complete the image.
Last week, Mr. and Mrs. J.T. Grossmith showed up in town, following a year-long road trip hither and tither, during which time we’ve failed to keep in touch using Skype.
J.T., the male component in the couple, has affected the Full, Complete Jerry Della Femina, but, to his credit, wouldn’t accept a Molson Canadian 67 when I offered to treat him at the neighborhood pub, and agreed to a glass of white wine. Something about a shaved head seems to accentuate a man’s eyes, and I was surprised to see that I’d never really paid any attention to J.T.’s peepers during the 30 years of our friendship. His are what I would call extraordinarily cop-like, which I may elaborate upon during a future occasion: say, if I ever get around to scribbling that police-procedural novel I think I may have in me.
Perhaps, if Ms. DeSutter and her team are open to a marketing opportunity involving strategic product placement, I may call the book “Badge 67,” and it may feature a bald, cruel-eyed detective who watches his waistline by drinking watery lager — and is miserable, as a consequence. I’m keeping most of the plot under my hat, but part of the dramatic tension will come as the detective searches high and low, both in lowdown dives and swell joints, looking for the miscreant who stole two-thirds of the flavor from his bottle of beer.