OPINION: Cowen on ... Carling

It's just as well for Britain's brewers that men are as thick-skinned as we are when it comes to alcohol advertising - or at least as willing to see our fellow males knocked about whenever an agency is handed a brief to attract more women to a brand. As Trevor Beattie pointed out in Private View last week, you couldn't reverse the gender roles in The Leith's new ad for Carling and hope to get it past the BACC. But then this is hardly the first time that a brewer's agency has piled on the humiliation for the blokes in a sickeningly desperate attempt to flatter the women. Men are unlikely to be offended by this approach - we're still too smugly secure that women adore us despite our Neanderthal, beer-and-football-obsessed ways - but I still wonder if the fairer sex's intelligence shouldn't be insulted just a little.

Attracting women was exactly what The Leith was tasked with when it picked up the Carling business in 2000. I couldn't understand why it was such a priority at the time. I mean, have we Y-chromosoned ones not been drinking enough of the stuff? Are we switching to fine wines and alcopops in historic droves? I suspect not - and I can't imagine that Carling looks around the pint consumption figures gleefully reported by the media after every World Cup match and thinks: "Oh my god, we really need to crack the female market!"

Carling, though, is the clear market leader in draft sales - and number two in cans - and when you hold a position as strong as that, it's tempting to try and find new drinkers on both sides of the gender divide. The trick, of course, is to do so without alienating your core drinkers - and it's a trick that The Leith comprehensively fails to pull off here.

The problem isn't really the gender agenda. After all, compared with the ugly gits in the current Boddingtons campaign, this fellow is a positive stud with a girlfriend desperate for him to lick lager off her semi-naked body. Offending men isn't really a problem. However, the stomach-churning imagery that Carling has allowed to be attached to its product in the search for a funny script definitely is.

A pint of lager, in the glass, is a thing of almost heavenly beauty, catching the light with an amber glow that promises cool refreshment and relaxation in equal measure. Take the lager out of the glass, however, and it becomes something very different.

Spill it on the table and it is instantly a sticky, smelly mess, good for nothing except attracting wasps, stinking out the carpet or enhancing the smell of stale cigarettes in the morning.

Agencies take lager out of context one and place it in context two at their peril - and this ad demonstrates why. You can feel your stomach churn as he licks the stuff off the table. You're already putting your pint glass down as he slurps it off the window. And, by the time he reaches the smallest room in the flat, you're swearing you'll stick to the reassuringly expensive stuff in future.

As is the case with The Leith's entire Carling campaign so far, the joke at the end of the spot has taken over in importance from the task of advertising.

There's no real proposition, just a bid to entertain and then stick a piece of the brand livery at the end. Women will laugh at the lager-licking idiot but they're hardly likely to be converted to a drink that treats itself with so little respect. They'll stick to bottled lager - and after watching this ad I can't blame them. At least they know where it's been.

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