I recently read a post by Huffington reporter Brooke Carey in which she got all full of herself because her boyfriend called her ‘more of a man than him’ when she ordered whiskey instead of what he’d asked for: Bud Lite.
She claims, ‘Women who embrace masculine interests are often considered smarter, more laid back, and more fun to be around than their prissier sisters’.
It’s food for thought—or drink, anyway. And indeed, it got me thinking: How drastically do whiskey ads, which have, throughout history, been overwhelming male-oriented and male-directed—affect a woman’s impulse buy at the bar?
First, though, I need to dispel some of the absurdities inherent in Ms. Carey’s quote.
‘Women who embrace masculine interests are often considered smarter…’ Considered smarter by whom? Other women? Oh, by men!! That’s because we can’t be expected to have meaningful conversations about 17” chrome Momo rims, public flatulence, fantasy football, running people over on Grand Theft Auto or titty bars when speaking to some dumb broad sipping Pol Roger.
‘…more laid back…’ What kind of laid back? There’s dry, sarcastic, Daria from Beavis and Butthead laid back; there’s sultry, dextromethorphan-diva Sade Adu laid back;and then there’s porn star Sasha Grey literally laid back. Say, Brooke—guess which one most appeals to the embrace of ‘masculine interests’?
‘…more fun to be around than their prissier sisters.’ Again, alas, I will respectfully object. Prissy boys, like those who drink Bud Lite and date rye-chuggin’ women, are not particularly fun for us testosterone-oozing boys to be around, but I sort of dig their prissier sisters. You think you can’t get prissy chicks hammered on Grand Cru Burgundy as effectively as on Bushmill’s?
Show some backbone, brother—it takes longer, that’s all.
But anyway, this piece was about marketing, so let’s take a chronological walk down memory lane with some classic whiskey ads accompanied by a handful of semi-literate observations.
(Click on ad images to enlarge them).
While celebrating their humiliating defeat at Gettysburg, rebel soldiers who were nearly dead from alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) apparently received succor from front-line nurses carrying full cases of Deep Spring Whisky directly on to the battlefield. Thanks to the courage of such brave and brassy belles—the cream of Rebel womanhood, who Brooke Carey would not dare call ‘prissy’—many soldiers who would have otherwise perished survived to become fully-functional alcoholics.
Post-Appomattox, when the demure damsels of Dixie had returned to their burned-down plantations to drink mint juleps on their pillaged verandas, a new breed of whiskey-provider arose: The Negro. Ever eager to please aristocratic white employers, servants like the gap-jawed Uncle Tom portrayed in this Norman Rockwell-esque ad loved to recommend ‘double rich’ bourbon to double-rich bosses. Although it is not depicted here, the blue blood in the ad replies, “Why, Beauregard, what in the world will ah do when those Yankee reconstructionist bastards pass that blasted Civil Rights initiative?’ to which Beauregard answers, ‘Doan’ worry, suh— by den, dey’ll be plenny o’ illegal wetbacks to take mah place.’
During the height of the misogynistic, women-free Golden Age of Whiskey, the family bulldog had more business fraternizing, harmonizing and guzzlizing with the boys than did the little missus. The mindless ditty below these wasted warblers is sung to the tune of ‘I’ve Been Workin’ On The Railroad’, though the only individual in this squeaky-clean sextet who looks like he’s ever been anywhere near the workin’ end of the railroad business is the mutt.
The Sixties were rife with racial tension and necessarily saw The Negro again supplanted by The Woman as resident firewater fetcher. Although ‘Darling’ is not officially shown in the ad, this literary-looking layabout, obviously too busy writing 45° incline beatnik poetry to walk to the wetbar, says: ‘Why can’t you have one too?’ rather than magnanimously suggesting that, in fact, she should have one too.
Off-stage, ‘Darling’ replies: “Seriously, Shakespeare? I’ve been hitting that fucking fifth of Grant’s since before ‘As The World Turns’ started.”
You can blame cheap third world labor, commercial banks refusing to lend Mom ‘n’ Pop a buck, an underwater housing market or Wall Street greed, but as ‘Mad Men’ succinctly points out, the real reason why our economy is in the toilet is because during its formative years, businessmen made decisions while shit-faced, and now we, their grandchildren, are paying the price. Hip flasks like the one in this ad are now considered museum-worthy objets d’art, which is an aesthetic way of hiding the fact that our forefathers couldn’t get from one bar to the next without taking a little nip from the trench coat pocket.
(Note that the ad touts half-pints at ‘no extra cost’, when in fact you might expect it to say, ‘Since you’re only getting half the liquor, half-pints are actually cheaper…’)
One of the first stabs at marketing whiskey to women. And yet, it really isn’t, is it? Even in the Seventies this notion was so controversial that ad agencies drenched it in sexuality really meant to appeal to dudes. Notice the spread-legged, subservient-on-the-floor posture of the photo’s model and her come-hither comment, “I never say no to Catto’s”—which we troglodytes totally understand to mean, “I never say no to a one-night stand after getting obliterated on Catto’s”. And even so, lest we worry that this girl-who-can’t-say-no threaten our fragile masculinity like Brooke Carey did to her boyfriend, the copy reassures us that other scotches are either too heavy or too light, not ‘just right’, thus reducing her to the status of a diminutive, iconographic Goldilocks.
Finally, an Eighties ad featuring zero well-groomed businessmen, zero baying bulldogs and zero groveling black people, but rather, focusing upon two healthy, active women obviously self-confident about their intelligence and athletic prowess!
But hang on a sec—it’s just a joke, isn’t it? Every healthy horndog on the planet will initially miss the tagline while honing in on the twin, well-defined gluteus maximi, possibly imagining such debaucheries as might nestle therein. Then, he reads the quote and chuckles to himself, ‘Right. It’s all about your mind.’
Rest assured, Alley Oop, Johnny Walker is chuckling right along with you.
And yet, Maker’s Mark attempt at ironic humor leaves our face all scrunched-up with looks of puzzlement. ‘Your bourbon has a great body and fine character; too bad my girlfriend doesn’t.’
Who is this phantom man talking to anyway? His buddy? The bartender? The Maker’s Mark company itself? And if it was any of the above, he’s obviously not drinking Maker’s Mark at the time or else he’d say, “My bourbon.” Or, ‘This bourbon.” We feel bad for the whining loser, of course, because we sense that he’s probably not worth a smokin’ babe of fine character, nor maybe even expensive small-batch bourbons, but the moment becomes instantly awkward (bad idea, ad people) and makes us want to respond, “Well then why don’t you get off your drunken ass and go to the gym with her, maybe make something healthy for dinner, or worse case scenario, dump her and try to find somebody more worthy of your hyper-selective tastes?
What’s that?? Oh, another round instead…?”
You’ve come a long way, baby. Too bad Madison Avenue hasn’t.