The Beer Belongs advertising campaign, which ran in a series of 132 ads from 1945 to 1956, was one of the most successful American ad campaigns of all time. It was seen by millions of Americans and is quite possibly the reason why so many of us have beer in our homes at any given moment. Read more in part one of this series and part two of this series.
“In this friendly, freedom-loving land of ours – beer belongs…Enjoy it!”
Beer Belongs tugged at America’s patriotism and spirit in demonstrated ways that no other ad campaign is recorded to have done. As previously discussed, several unprecedented components of the campaign, including its use of art plus cosmic-level timing given the state of our nation, were the biggest factors in its success.
The campaign itself had a few subgroups of ads and inter-related series that touched on the same theme. It is important to see Beer Belongs in context, so here I will discuss two subgroups of ads: Home Life in America, part of the Beer Belongs series, and Morale is a Lot of Little Things, a predecessor to the main project.
The series of ads began in 1945. But in 1946, a numbered subgroup of images called Home Life in America became the most widely circulated. The marketing emphasis was not unlike today. With the conclusion of World War II America was gazing inwards. That’s right: local became a thing.
When it comes to purchasing beer, Julia Herz explained to our group of beer writers back in July in North Carolina, a “local” product is twice as important to consumers than when purchasing spirits or wine — and by a significant degree. This disparity increases when examining younger drinkers. Undoubtedly it relates to the cited importance of flavor and freshness – the two top factors in a beer purchase according to the Brewers Association, of which Julia is president.
Do I mean that all local beer tastes better? Certainly not. But unlike most wines and spirits, nearly all beers taste better fresh, and local means fresh.
War advertising demanded that individuals put their own gratification aside for the good of the nation. The level of patriotism required is not fathomable for many of my generation. The climate was one of collectivity, and Home Life in America capitalized on these sentiments. The emphasis was on the local product: “America’s beverage of moderation!”
While the text of each ad was different, a focus on the US as well as home life always underscored the message that beer is a positive, everyday beverage.
“In this home-loving land of ours…in this America of kindliness, of friendship, of good-humored tolerance…perhaps no beverages are more ‘at home’ on more occasions than good beer and ale. For beer and ale are the kinds of beverages Americans like. They belong – to pleasant living, to good fellowship, to sensible moderation. And our right to enjoy them, this too belongs – to our own American heritage of personal freedom.”
Home Life in America made Americans want to drink an American beverage in their own homes. Many modern consumers want to know where their stuff comes from for all different reasons – to assure fair trade, to keep local money local, to minimize the environmental cost of shipping. These are different motivations than those of the mid 20th century, but local reigns today nonetheless.
Purchases of American beer were demonstrated to have increased, as previously mentioned. What is much harder to measure or even define is the idea of morale.
in 1942, three years before the launch of Beer Belongs, the Morale is a Lot of Little Things series of ads ran to boost the spirits of troops abroad and families at home. For this, the United States Brewers Association (which merged to be come “Foundation” in 1944) turned to American companies for help.
The text varied, as with all of the ads, but went something like this printed above.
“It happens that millions of Americans attach a special value to their right to enjoy a refreshing glass of beer…in the company of good friends…with wholesome American food…as a beverage of moderation after a good day’s work. A small thing, surely – not of crucial importance to any of us. And yet – morale is a lot of little things like this.” [ellipses present in original]
Morale is a Lot of Little Things attempted to define morale while keeping it intentionally vague. It wasn’t just self-promotion, however. Some of the images encouraged consumers to write their troops letters to boost their spirits (seen in the bottom left of the image below). In fact, multiple branches of the military gave recognition to the US Brewers Association for their efforts, which is evidence of their tangible success.
The morale aspect of this campaign, which bled into the greater Beer Belongs efforts, is very moving to me, not because I am a veteran or particularly patriotic. Morale is a Lot of Little Things touches me because the message behind it is one of fellowship; trivial experiences like drinking a beer become forces for good only because they bring people together.
This is the part where my morale discussion gets warm and fuzzy, if not a bit elusive or ambiguous to those more interested in cold, hard facts. But I find the emotional connection of these ads impossible to ignore, especially given my proximity to both beer and tragedy.
Morale exists beyond the confines of war or major conflict. It is all around us – at our jobs, within our families, in our living rooms as the national and world news swirls about. I work as a pediatric nurse with kids and families in a constant state of crisis. Until two weeks ago, that was within an intensive care unit. Now it is as a palliative care and hospice nurse. I am constantly asked an exceedingly personal question that is always impossible to answer adequately and frankly seems unfair. “How can you do that?”
The answer is beer. Of course not only beer, it is also yoga and prayer and Zumba and smelling flowers and kittens and the occasional donut. And I do not mean beer as comfort in the pathological, dependent sense. I mean all that beer can bring. Beer is like meditation to me, perhaps in the way that it was for troops overseas as a reminder of home. The predictability of an Anchor Steam or a Surly Hell is reassuring – those tastes remind me of what reliable friends I have and what incredible experiences I have had. Musing on the contribution from malt, yeast, hops – it takes me out of myself.
Exploring old styles like Dusseldorf alt or gruit grounds me in the history of the beverage – there is something constant about these ancient beers in the way that hymns connect modern Christians to an ancient tradition, in the way that the Seder meal represents thousands of years of Jews keeping the faith.
Some may say, “it’s just beer,” but I am not one of those people. The beer community is an essential support system for me after a difficult day. Morale really is a lot of little things – almost imperceptible at times but no doubt essential to my survival.
Sources and further reading:
1. Brooks, J.R. (November, 2009) In this friendly, freedom-loving land of ours – beer belongs…enjoy it! All About Beer. Retrieved from http://allaboutbeer.com/article/in-this-friendly-freedom-loving-land-of-ours%E2%80%94beer-belongs%E2%80%A6enjoy-it/
2. Brooks, J.R. Beer Belongs – Enjoy It! Brookston Beer Bulletin. http://brookstonbeerbulletin.com/beer-belongs/
3. Houghtaling, A. (2014, April 10). The Ads that Shaped American Beer Marketing. Retrieved from http://punchdrink.com/articles/the-ads-that-shaped-american-beer-marketing/