LIVE ISSUE/FOSTER’S ADVERTISING: M&C relies on Aussie humour to restore Foster’s - John Tylee reports on the latest efforts to regain the appeal of early lager work

For all the attempts to set it on the right path, the advertising for Foster’s lager has shown as much steadiness in recent years as a drunk tanked up on tinnies.

For all the attempts to set it on the right path, the advertising

for Foster’s lager has shown as much steadiness in recent years as a

drunk tanked up on tinnies.



Ever since the brand charted a new course for beer marketing in the UK

on the back of Paul Hogan’s macho Aussie appeal, it has tried to

recapture the advertising high ground. Instead, it has stumbled from one

false-start to the next.



Five agencies have tried - with varying degrees of success - to sustain

the personality of a brew that once seemed new and dif-ferent but which

today looks passe in a crowded and much changed marketplace.



The result has been a series of mediocre commercials without a common

thread. Burt Lancaster, as a brandy-tippling tycoon won over to the

taste of Foster’s, has doubtless been long forgotten; the pair of films

set in a post-apocalypse world in which a character shrugs off the

unwelcome attentions of a drooling mutant toad probably soon will

be.



The ’don’t you just hate it’ campaign was never considered a

sufficiently robust successor to Hogan. And what about Roy and HG who

exhorted drinkers to ’tickle it, you wrigglers’?



’There were barriers in the humour,’ Jerry Goldberg, the brands director

of Scottish Courage, Foster’s UK brewer and distributor, tactfully

answers.



’People thought the commercials were Australian ’imports’ and Roy and HG

never got the British TV exposure that Jack Dee enjoyed while doing John

Smith’s.’



Now M&C Saatchi is staging the latest effort to return the brand to what

Nick Hurrell, the agency’s joint chief executive, calls the ’gold

standard’ set by Hogan (Campaign, last week).



The new campaign - with the theme ’he who drinks Australian, thinks

Australian’ - uses subtitled foreign actors to illustrate the

universality of Australian humour. Goldberg claims the three films

’brought the house down’ when they were unveiled to a 1,000-strong

audience.



However, Hurrell’s insistence that ’we’re going to be running with this

campaign for a long time to come’ may be an empty promise. The Foster’s

brand guardians have rarely been able to resist the temptation to

tinker, making a consistent message difficult to achieve.



Stuart Bull, the former chief executive of KHBB who is experienced in

beer advertising, says: ’The problem is to do with the brand management,

not the agencies. You can almost plot the changes in the advertising

direction on Foster’s with the arrival of the new man on the block at

the distributor.



The result is that there is nobody who holds the essence of the brand in

their head.’



Small wonder, perhaps, that Foster’s has never hit the bullseye again

the way it did with Hogan, whose timely arrival in the early 80s

coincided with the wane of the so-called ’swilling’ lagers such as Skol.

His laconic wit proved the ideal herald for a new generation of

’imported’ beers which were still relatively rare in the UK.



The campaign devised by the then Hedger Mitchell Stark caught the mood

of the times. Hogan’s debunking of stuck-up ballet fans and cricket

snobs put the brand at one with the laddish culture of the pre-Loaded

years.



But when Hogan departed to devote his time to a burgeoning movie career

- his Crocodile Dundee was almost an exact replica of his Foster’s

character - things were never the same.



’Hogan was the best beer campaign ever and it’s been tough to match,’

Goldberg confesses. ’But instead of going back to basics, we kept trying

to bury his ghost.’



Jeff Stark, who wrote some of the early Hogan scripts, believes the

much-lauded campaign was always doomed to a limited life.



’Hogan was a refreshing change from the fake ’German-ness’ that

characterised beer advertising at that time,’ he recalls. ’He was a

perfect expression for the brand. But, in the end, there was a limit to

the number of British institutions on which he could do his ’innocent

Australian’ routine.’



Gerry Moira, the executive creative director of Publicis, a Guinness

roster agency, believes that, post-Hogan, Foster’s advertising turned

charmless as its humour became brutalised, allowing Carlsberg-Tetley’s

Castlemaine XXXX to occupy the territory it originally settled.



Certainly, Foster’s has found it hard to keep its authentic appeal in a

market cluttered by beers from Manila to Munich that don’t have ’brewed

under licence in the UK’ stamped on their sides.



The other hurdle confronting it is a rites-of-passage process which male

drinkers undergo in their mid-20s and which Hugh Kellett, the Publicis

Focus client services director, terms the ’lagerpause’.



Kellett, who has worked on Greene King and Scottish & Newcastle

business, identifies the symptoms as a switch from lager to beers with

more body and character, most likely the new generation of creamy-topped

bitters such as Bass Brewers’ Caffrey’s or Guinness’s Kilkenny. ’The

task for Foster’s is to get the younger drinkers and lock them in,’ he

says.



That may involve the brand in a fascinating voyage of discovery.

Goldberg disputes the labelling of Foster’s as a standard lager - ’it’s

very much in the premium sector alongside Stella Artois’. And it may be

that the development of premium innovations such as Foster’s Ice, whose

advertising probably best encapsulates the brand’s devil-may-care

credentials, is the key to its future. Some industry sources even

suggest the time will come when brands such as Foster’s are advertising

vitamin-enriched ’sports’ variants.



Meanwhile, Goldberg is firm in his belief that the simplicity of the new

campaign makes it a long-term advertising property. And if not? ’Well,’

one senior creative says, ’they could try asking Hogan if he’s doing

much at the moment.’



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