A Dewar’s Man

Dewar’s Scotch Whisky bills itself as the “drinking man’s whisky.” To most, that probably sounds like simple hyperbolic advertising so commonplace these days.  But consider this example the exception to the rule.

Way back in the Glory Days of drinking – if using the historical accuracy of Mad Men is any indication – Dewar’s contracted with the Chicago-based advertising firm Leo Burnett, U.S.A. in the late 1960s to increase sales of its product.  The ad firm, in turn, created the idea of a series of print ads of Dewar’s Profiles, with each profile depicting a celebrity or other notable personality endorsing the whisky.  The series’ first profile was a young stage actor by the name of Jerry Orbach.

Most people these days know Mr. Orbach from his long-running role as NYPD Detective Lenny Briscoe on the groundbreaking police procedural drama, Law & Order.  Lenny, as he was known to his partners (the best being Chris Noth’s Detective Mike Logan) always managed to get in the best quips and one-liners during the show’s first half hour and showcased the deadpan gallows humor resulting from years of grinding police work.

By contrast to that role, the Dewar’s advertisement – produced in late 1969, decades before L&O – depicts a young 33 year old stage actor and stands as an early signpost of Orbach’s future awesomeness.  (Ironically, the L&O character for which he is most remembered was a recovering alcoholic.)  Looking back on his appearance as the first Dewar’s Profile for White Label Scotch only a few short years before his signature L&O role began, Orbach recalled in a New York Times interview (pictured below), “It made me a Dewar’s drinker.”

Although he was the first (and likely the best) person tapped to promote the whisky “to position Dewar’s among educated and sophisticated young adults,” the ad campaign also reached “into obscure areas to keep it interesting…a bobsled racer, a harpsichord builder and a white-water rafting guide.”

Ultimately, the ad is a great glimpse back at the early days of a great actor, one who enjoyed a fine dram (or at least was paid to say so).  One who is gone but not forgotten: not by me, and certainly not by his hometown, New York City.


The fine gentlemen over at It’s Just the Booze Dancing recently highlighted Dewar’s new advertising campaign, featuring British actress Claire Forlani as a “a beautiful, alluring and mysterious Scottish woman with the presence of a queen and the mouth of a gangster.”

An accurate description, to be sure, but I’m of another opinion, one a bit more primitive and much more cynical: Dewar’s took note of Johnnie Walker’s successful partnership with Christina Hendricks, and simply followed suit.

Here’s the difference: Hendrick’s Mad Men role – strong-willed woman as equal member in a male-dominated profession – works to sell a liquor to a male audience.  She can easily be pictured as a whisky drinker, as she often does so in her television role. Forlani’s performance, however, feels contrived: she’s appears more a wine drinker, or more likely, a Cosmo girl. And worst, she’s most notable for her roles in Meet Joe Black and Mallrats, both Grade-A stinkers.

Unless Dewar’s was specifically targeting female consumers, they get an A for effort and an F for execution.

“The Media Business: Advertising; 20 Years of Dewar’s Achievers” by Daniel Cuff, New York Times, February 17, 1989

Published in: on November 13, 2012 at 12:11 am  Comments (1)  
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Not the Swedish Chef

As much as the fumbling language, big hair, and overwhelming gesticulations would have you believe, it’s not the Swedish Chef (of Muppets fame) hawking Old Milwaukee beer on Swedish television, it’s Will Farrell.

Hollywood stars hawking products overseas isn’t anything new, but the combination of factors– Farrell’s 1970s-style mustache (straight of out Semi-Pro, a real stinker) and Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat”-like setting, sans T-Pain – make these commercials nonsensically hilarious.

According to Esquire (linking from Slate.com), “Ferrell rattles off a few lines in Swedish — translation: ‘This is my boat. This is my woman. And this is my beer. Old Milwaukee. It’s all right.'”

After a bit more research, I learned that Ferrell has also cut several other commercials for Old Milwaukee broadcasted in limited areas only, specifically North Platte, Nebraska, Terre Haute, Indiana, and Devenport, Iowa.  These domestic-market ads are thankfully, no less ridiculous.

MSN.com, on the other hand, apparently doesn’t find the humor of Farrell’s love of cheap American beer: “Ever wonder what celebrities get up to in their spare time? Making cringe-worthy TV ads to be aired in other countries, probably. In fact, we’re wondering if there’s an entire ‘Lost in Translation’-like backstory to this Will Ferrell ad for Old Milwaukee, which was broadcast only in Sweden and shows a sunburned, mustachioed Ferrell jumping around with a can of beer.”

I only have one question: Does Old Milwaukee truly intend to expand sales into Scandinavia, or was this simply a gimmick to increase sales here in the states?  Vi kommer förmodligen aldrig veta.

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Hemingway as Mad Man

Behold, the holy intersection of Don Draper, Ernest Hemingway, and drinking.  Or, more specifically, Hemingway, mid-Twentieth Century advertising, and Ballantine ale.  Imagine, how would the exchange have gone between Hemingway, the epic man of letters, and Draper, wizard of Madison Avenue?

Unfortunately for us, this can only be fiction.  Yet Ballantine beer, wisely using the writer’s reputation to sell its product, tapped Papa himself to pen a few words on their brew.  And what better advertisement than the words of an acclaimed novelist and drinker?

The print advertisement (pictured above, published around 1951) prominently features Hemingway himself, but it’s the ad’s peripheral – yet no less prominent details – that stand out to me: Hemingway’s most prominent novel to date, For Whom the Bell Tolls; the letterhead on which the author writes, marking his letter from Finca Vigía, his Cuban villa at San Francisco de Paula; and the ad’s challenge to its readers – “HOW WOULD YOU put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?”

However, details aside, its Hemingway’s prose that ultimately sells the product.  In its entirety:

Bob Benchley first introduced me to Ballantine Ale. It has a been good companion ever since.

You have to work hard to deserve to drink it. But I would rather have a bottle of Ballantine Ale than any other drink after fighting a really big fish. When something has been taken out of you by strenuous exercise Ballantine puts it back in.

We keep it iced in the bait box with chunks of ice packed around it. And you ought to taste it on a hot day when you have worked a big marlin fast because there were sharks after him.

You are tired all the way through. The fish is landed untouched by sharks and you have a bottle of Ballantine cold in your hand and drink it cool, light, and full-bodied, so it tastes good long after you have swallowed it. That’s the test of an ale with me: whether it tastes as good afterwards as when it’s going down.  Ballantine does.

Now if that won’t sell your brew, nothing will.

Published in: on October 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm  Comments Off on Hemingway as Mad Man  
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