Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Liquid courage

Take Courage, my friends. Old ad slogans never die; they just annoy a whole new generation of ninnies.

A new ad campaign for Courage beers, by Wells & Young's Brewing Company Limited has resurrected a 50+ year old slogan "Take Courage my friend" to promote the venerable brand. The ads (which can be seen in the above link) feature an ironic hero, who is kind of a slob, facing three frightening prospects: a polka-dot sweater set being knitted by his mum, a rectal exam, and being asked by his large-bummed woman friend how she looks in a tight dress. In all the ads, a pint of the beer is saying to the man (in a talk bubble) "Take Courage my friend".

Funny campaign. The third one might be a little sexist, but still funny because it's true.

The "Take Courage" slogan was used extensively from the '50s to the '80s in international advertising. It's painted on the side of old pubs in Great Britain. There was even an LP produced, I assume, of drinking songs.

And yet, today? The UK Advertising Standards Authority has banned the new campaign because three people complained about the big bum ad:

The complaints said the poster implied that the beer would give the man confidence to either be rude about the woman's appearance or to take advantage of her.

The brewer, Wells & Young's Brewing Company Ltd., said it believed many men would relate to the problem of being asked to comment on a woman's new dress. The company arged that it was clear from the man's expression that he would rather not answer.

The Authority said it didn't believe that consumers would believe that the poster suggested that the man would be unnecessarily negative or take advantage, but would simply tell the truth.

Here's a little more detail:

“Three members of the public believed the poster implied that the beer would give the man confidence to either make negative comments on the woman’s appearance or take advantage of her.

“We considered that the combination of the text and the image of the man with an open beer can and half-empty glass of beer was likely to be understood by consumers to carry the clear implication that the beer would give the man enough confidence to tell the woman that the dress was unflattering.

"Although we understood the humorous intention of the scenario, we concluded that the poster breached the (advertising) code by suggesting that the beer could increase confidence."

Gods forbid that anyone might see a correlation between drinking and courage. The phrase "liquid courage" has only been around since the days of sail (the jingoistic Brits also used to call it "Dutch courage"). Everyone is familiar with the phrase as a cultural artifact. And yet it was technically ruled foul because it implied alcohol could somehow enhance performance which, some scientists have said, will make you drink more. (But, channelling Douglas Adams, I think that it's 'mostly because they didn’t get invited to those sorts of parties'.)

Whether a question of sexism or false advertising, this is a classic "oh come ON!" situation for me that shows how much of our sense of humour has been lost in the post-PC age. People read way too much into ads today. I can't but agree when I read the brewer's defence:

"Our intention through this advertising is to portray humorous everyday occurrences which Courage drinkers can relate to.

"Every man with some life experience has been in the situation where they have been asked the infamous line: 'Does my bum look big in this?' And as every man in Britain knows, the correct response is 'No!'

"It is because this is universally understood that we did not put these words on the poster."



  1. Yes, I appreciate the irony of censoring a comment.

  2. Followup: Here's an Aussie blogger's take on the issue: