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Useful Notes / Beer Commercials

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If you've ever watched a television commercial for beer in the United States or watched one on YouTube if you're outside of the States, you might notice something. In the typical American beer commercial, about how many times is someone shown drinking the sponsor's product, compared to, say, someone drinking soda in a soft drink commercial, coffee in one of those commercials, or other beverages? Is it more frequently, or less? If you said less frequently, you'd be correct. In fact, the exact number is zero.

Television commercials for beer are the only advertisements that never show anyone consuming the product. This is not a legal requirement. It's a holdover from the old Television Code system of the private organization and Television industry political lobbying group, The National Association of Broadcasters. The Television Code was a self-imposed censorship system for making sure stations only ran programs which weren't offensive and followed typical middle-class views, and existed until the late 1970s when stations started to run much edgier fare that wasn't necessarily permitted by the code. Sort of like what happened when comic book publishers decided to drop out of The Comics Code or the way mainstream movie studios stopped following The Hays Code.

The television code had a restriction that an ad for beer (and possibly hard liquor) could not show someone drinking the product. While the code is long since dead, most stations still won't run beer ads where it shows the product being consumed, so as a result, to this day, beer makers do not show their product being consumed in their television commercials.

Several beer commercials have lampshaded this restriction:

  • Paul Hogan of "Crocodile" Dundee fame probably did it first, in a 1980s ad for Fosters Lager. He noted that he wasn't allowed to drink the product on television, but was having a really hard time with that full mug of beer in front of him. Finally, in a moment of frustration, he mutters "Fade to black." The ad does, and when it comes back, the mug is half full. Viewable here.
  • Red Stripe ran an ad in the mid-2000s, with a Jamaican announcer and his companion Jimmy. The announcer points out the restriction, then announces various forms of Red Stripe merchandise. For each, the commercial cuts to an informational screen with an 800 number and website to buy the advertised merchandise. As the commercial cuts back to the announcer and Jimmy, it becomes clear they've been drinking during the info screens. Viewable here.
  • Heineken Light began running an ad in early 2014, in which Neil Patrick Harris (Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother) mentions the fact that he cannot drink his beer onscreen, and then steps out of the frame to take a drink.
  • In the early 90's, Canadian brewery LaBatt ran some ads for their Genuine Draft featuring "Genuine Joel", an average 20-something who would Lamp Shade that he can't drink the draft on TV, but he could "hold it", and add music, color and "people having a great time" but the commercial ended with him asking if he could open his can of Draft yet.