Commentary

Newcastle's 'Band of Brands' Falls Short, Like All Beer Marketing

When the weather is cold, I enjoy nothing more than jamming my hands into my toasty-oasty coat pockets. Even if they happen to rub up against keys or a fossilized Chap Stick, that’s the hand-emplacement equivalent of a warm cup of cocoa, friend. It was thus disturbing beyond belief when, upon receiving my snuggly-uggly coat back from the tailor the other day, I found my comfy-umfy pockets had been partitioned. In his zeal to attach extra buttons in advance of my next overly-aggressive-coat-removal apocalypse, the guy sewed them straight through the heart of the pockets, thus rendering them uninhabitable to anyone without infant-sized hands or miniature flipperpincers.

My point: well-intentioned dumbassery is dumbassery all the same. Which brings me to Newcastle Brown Ale and its secondannual self-deprecating attempt at deflating the pomp and pageantry around Super Bowl beer ads. I loved the first one, which was understated and dismissive in ways that approximately zero percent of event-centric marketing usually is. This time around, however, the brand has gone the bigger-concept route - and, in the process, surrendered all the low-key charm that made its first dip into the anti-marketing marketing pool so appealing.

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That bigger concept is Newcastle’s “Band of Brands,” for which the company hopes to enlist other companies eager to pool cash for a single Super Bowl spot. The idea is to riff on the lameness of mass-market beer advertising and, in theory, position Newcastle Brown Ale as the leader of the iconoclast brigade.

At least I think that’s the point. The clip starts with the Americana images often seen in beer ads - farm machinery, sunny cityscapes, an unfairly good-looking outdoorsy guy with his eager-eyed dog, etc. - and a wonderfully faux-Anheuserian first line (“this is the United States of winning, and we’re taking it to the end zone every day”) delivered by a narrator with the barest hint of rasp in his voice. Then the plaintive piano screeches to a halt and Aubrey Plaza enters, smart phone in palm. And then she starts in on her spiel, and then it all falls apart.

In a distractingly halting cadence, Plaza delivers a call to arms of sorts, half of which is sarcastic and half of which pushes the “Band of Brands” bit with no small degree of sincerity. I dig Plaza; she’s the owner of the most devastatingly withering deadpan since the heyday of Christopher Guest. But I don’t know what she’s doing here. Her delivery isn’t acidic enough to summon viewers to join in her disdain and it’s not engaged enough to make “Band of Brands” sound like anything other than a lowly cry for attention.

I assume Plaza won the gig on the durability and focus of her comic persona - that her appearance in something of this nature, paired with her descriptions of the concept as “brilliant,” would underline the inanity of the entire marketing process. But “Band of Brands” is, like, real. So we’re attempting to satirize a particular type of selling while selling something else that itself is a satire? Such an approach would appear to land juuuuuust a bit south of the wit and confidence we usually associate with the satires of Twain or Swift (Jonathan, not Taylor – and damn us all to the darkest and most un-air-conditioned afterworld for the necessity of that clarification).

Another couple of questions, while we’re at it: Beyond media self-navel-gazers, who really gives a hoot about the absurd price of Super Bowl ads and the poor little brands who can’t afford them? Are would-be drinkers of semi-upscale beer sitting around thinking, “Gosh, it sure is disheartening that humble Ma-and-Pa companies get shut out of the big game because they don’t have $4 million laying around”? Congratulations, Newcastle. You’ve amplified the bleats of a thousand frustrated media planners. Meanwhile, I’m parched and sober. What’s your beer about? How about your brand? It’d sure be keen if your viralitudinous campaign would give me the answers for which I thirst.

Lord knows the Budweiser-y marketers of the world are ripe for satire. That Millennials-baiting Budweiser spot, in which a gaggle of tipsy yet still demographically supercool drinkers call for a Lyft, only to be met by the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales - has there been a more desperate or transparent ad in recent memory? I wish the participants - picked at random, I’m certain - had a bit more smartass to ‘em. “Whoa, Clydesdales? Awesome. Change of plans, Mr. Driver. Let’s head to the Taco Bell drive-thru.” The PETA bounty on their heads would reach six figures within an hour of its first airing. 

This feels like the right place to stop. Beer marketing remains terrible and unimaginative. That’s all.

1 comment about "Newcastle's 'Band of Brands' Falls Short, Like All Beer Marketing".
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  1. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost, January 16, 2015 at 7:44 a.m.

    Well, hell, I liked it. I think the "The United States of winning" bit was a poke at Chrysler. I don't know where you come off saying Shania Twain is a satirist.

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