Illinois professors help write book about beer advertising

CHICAGO – The first chapter of the book two St. Xavier University professors helped write refers to men, sports and beer as the “holy trinity.”

Jim Walker, the chairman of the university’s department of communication and professor of mass communication, notes the combination isn’t divine, just historical.

Walker and his colleague, English professor Nelson Hathcock, with Robert Bellamy, Jr., wrote a chapter in the book “Sport, Beer, and Gender: Promotional Culture and Contemporary Social Life.”

“We’ve been hardwired for beer,” Hathcock said of men.

Although it’s not exactly coffee-shop reading, the book looks at the evolution of men and advertising. The chapter the professors wrote, the second in the book, is entitled “Domesticating the Brew: Gender and Sport in Postwar Magazine Advertising for Beer.”

After World War II, there was a generational shift in beer advertising, Walker said. In the 1940s and 1950s during the suburbanization of America, the ads typically targeted married couples at home, the analysis of nearly 340 magazine ads showed.

Women slowly were showing up more in ads, but not as the main focus and almost always in their homes. Men weren’t frequenting taverns as much after work, which meant if brewers wanted to keep up their loyal drinkers, they had to adjust accordingly.

“They wanted the six-pack in the refrigerator rather than the beer at the local tavern,” Walker said.

A decade or two later, another shift occurred.

“The six-pack was now in the refrigerator, so what they were doing was responding to the young people of the 1960s and 1970s,” Walker said. “They were now going to the taverns to escape the suburbs.”

In their sampling, rarely did any of the advertising portray men consuming beer, and only once did an ad depict a woman with a glass to her lips.

“Beer was more than a man’s drink, but when beer was drunk, men drank it,” Walker wrote.

With the consolidation of brewers and evolution of the beer industry throughout the years, marketing of beer drastically has changed.

Much of the advertising aimed at young men often uses humor and makes them the butt of the joke, Walker said.

As for the modern advertising angle for women, for whom light beer has become a popular choice, it’s not the same as their male counterparts.

“Women are often treated as the outsider,” Walker said. “He’s acting up, and she is who he’s performing for. She’s usually very beautiful, very wealthy and way beyond the reach of the poor schmuck.”

Throughout the years, there’s no denying the link between beer, men and sports has been strong, Hathcock said.

“It’s grown even more and more powerful,” he said.

The Super Bowl is the most important day of advertising of the year, Walker said, which by extension makes it crucial for beer companies. But the rules are different with millions watching.

“They’re going to go for a more broad appeal,” Walker said. “Super Bowl ads are about novelty and creativity. The challenge is to get people writing and talking about your ad.”