Re: Anthropology & advertising

Michael John Evans (g8726246@MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA)
Fri, 17 Dec 1993 00:40:22 -0500

John McCreery wrote, asking for "must reads" to bolster a course dealing
with the social and cultural construction of meaning in/through
advertising. John, I wonder if you are aware of a story here in Canada
which links anthropologists, ethnography and representations of 'reality'
and meaning through advertising? In 1990-91, Carling-O'Keefe brewing
company launched a visually & conceptually innovative television ad for a very
old product, "Black Label". According to the story (which sounds like an urban
myth, but I actually read it in a popular magazine, something like
"Saturday Night"), Carling executives identified a steady, but very small
market for the brand Black Label, in the face of steady and serious
advertising competition from various & numerous other brands, and
absolutely no promotion of Black Label. Carling could not figure out *who*
was buying their Black Label, or why they favored that brand, although
they (Carling) were able to identify the specific bars/area that consistently
bought Black Label. The ad. company hired two anthropologists to track down
the Black Label afficionados. What followed was essentially a 'quickie
ethnography' of the Black Label fans, why they drank that beer, what they
liked about it. Apparently, the brand was favoured *because* it was not
being hyped, & *because* it held no resonance with things 'yuppie', by a
small but internally well recognised 'counter-culture' sub group that
tended to use other symbols to mark their 'difference' from the dominent
society: black leather, motor cycles, some things psychadelic... The
anthropologists then worked with the adpeople to create a campaign which
would capitalise on this aspect of Black Label's attraction, without
alienating its regular customers. The result was a radically different
beer ad. One of the few examples perhaps of the clients actually creating
the marketing scheme, perhaps?
I have no idea what beer comercials are like in Japan, but here in
Canada they were for a time, close to art, in their attempts to create
social 'reality' and 'meaning'. The Black Label ads were quite wonderful
(for commercials!)

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Mike Evans, Anthropology &/ Heather Young-Leslie, Anthropology
McMaster University, Hamilton /or: York University, North York,
Ontario. (905) 525 9140 x23907 Ontario Canada (416) 736 5261
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