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
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
’People thought the commercials were Australian ’imports’ and Roy and HG
never got the British TV exposure that Jack Dee enjoyed while doing John
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
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 result is that there is nobody who holds the essence of the brand in
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
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
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
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.’