Drinking Buddies: A Beer Commercial Analysis

Beer commercials. If you live in the US and watch any kind of TV, but particularly sports, you see a ton of beer commercials. And beer commercial prevalence on TV has been increasing. According to a University of Texas – Austin study, there are 400% more beer commercials on now than a few decades age. The light beer companies invest heavily on the TV airwaves, and each attempts to make their mark with catchy everyman-type slogans, shiny cans, and “funny” ads. When you watch enough of these ads, you start to notice patterns. Beer companies (and their marketing departments) are telegraphing messages about who they think you are and with whom you hang out. We investigated these patterns in The Renaissance Fan’s Beer Commercial Analysis. These are our findings.

We critically analyzed over 100 total commercials put out by Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light and Corona between 2012 and 2015. These four brands were consistently the top results in our search and very often followed a kind of standard “beer commercial formula” (note: Sam Adams commercials are usually about their employees, Keystone Light or Busch Light commercials are relatively rare, and Heineken commercials are just bizarre).  What we looked for as we watched were shots like this:

beer commercial analysis

Friends having a good time, drinking a beer (but never actually drinking the beer) that you are supposed to also like. This shot (or one very similar) appears in most beer ads, and the make-up of the friend groups featured in the ads was the focus of our analysis (we found 72 group shots in the ads we watched). Who do beer companies choose to feature in their ads? What are they doing? What does that say about us and what they think of us?

According to beer commercials, you’re a dude, and you don’t mind a good Sausage-Fest

Men are almost always the focus of these beer ads. Women are the minority in the friend group in 92% of the ads we looked at. In fact, in about one third of beer ad friend groups, there are no women at all. We discovered only one ad that featured only women and no men (a Bud Light ad titled “Girls Night”). While that ad depicted what might be a pretty typical (and super fun!) night out for four female friends, it also spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on the dudes that came up and made unwanted advances on them throughout the night. So the fellas still got their time in the ad.

There are some differences between the brands when it comes to gender. Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite on average stick to a 3:1, male:female ratio. In fact, it’s kind of remarkable how similar they all came out in this analysis. Corona achieves a sex ratio that is a little closer to the normal population.

beer commercial analysis


So what they are saying is that Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Lite drinkers are not opposed to a good old-fashioned Sausage Fest.

Now, before we play the sexism card, as we are often inclined to do when we see stacked numbers like this, it may be important to point out that statistics indicate that 80% of light beer is consumed by men.  Women tend to favor craft beers, which is a pretty clear indication that they have better taste. So good for you, ladies. It also means that the targeting of men is intentional on the part of the beer companies and is probably not worth getting worked up over. Men are their market, and so that’s who they play to.

What it might be okay to get upset about is how women are featured in many ads. In the course of this analysis we were pleased to see women, while still most often a minority share, at least featured as equals in many of these friend groups in the more modern beer ads. That was not always the case as evidenced by this 2003 ad:

Those two guys are just committing sexual harassment. That’s it, end of story.

Your friend group has exactly one kind of diversity

Friend groups in beer commercials very often get the Varsity Blues treatment when it comes to diversity. Around 38% of all the ads we watched featured no minorities whatsoever, but, in ads that did feature a minority, there was a 60% chance it was one black man hanging out with 2-3 white men. There were a couple ads that featured groups that were made up of entirely black men (none with entirely black women), and in total, black people were represented at a rate that was pretty close to their percentage in the US populace. Not true of other minorities. Hispanic people in particular are very rare in these beer commercial friend groups and appeared at a rate that is much lower than their share of the actual US population. Asians were rarely featured. In fact, according to beer commercials, if you have an Asian person in your friend group, there is about a 1 in 3 chance it is Ken Jeong and you summoned him like a genie to come hang out with you and get you laid.

beer commercial analysis

You hang out in cool places

Rooftops. So hot right now. About 20% of the friend groups featured in the 2015 ads were hanging out on a roof somewhere. Are you spending 20% of your time on a roof? Get with the trend. Overall, beaches were a common hang-out location. This was largely because of Corona and their insistence that we treat everywhere as a beach. But what does that even mean? Are we to wear our swimsuits under our normal clothes at all times? Does it mean we can just discard used bandages on the ground?

Other locations included lounging on a staircase, an airplane, local bars, fancy bars (what’s the difference you ask? Fancy bars have a little lamp on the table. Science.), tailgate parties, backyard barbeques, and an ice-berg.

Your server is always a woman

Never once in all these ads is the beer brought to the table by a guy named Brad with some ketchup on his pants and his shirt half untucked as he slogs through hour 8 of a 10-hour shift. It’s always her:

beer commercial analysis

Put into other words, in a beer commercial it’s never Nick Miller manning the tap, it’s always Cece.

They want you to believe drinking their brand is much edgier than it is

Giving the impression that something is edgy, unique, and spontaneous is not exactly a new marketing game plan. But it’s funny to see that strategy applied to some of the most well-established and recognizable brands in America, if not the world. The illusion of an edgy beer brand is supposed to be created by the cool hang out spots, great looking people (particularly you Corona ad actors), and thrill-seeking slogans. However, Bud Light’s catch phrases “Here we go!” and “Up for anything!” would be more well-suited slogans for bath salts or an orgy than the number one selling light beer in the US. Light beer in general is one of the most conservative things you could ever order at a bar. There is nothing adventurous about any of these brands. But if you can be convinced otherwise, well, then here’s your Coors Light. Enjoy. The can lights up when it’s cold (or at least a little cool)! The most interesting thing about Coors is that at one point Walter White shilled for them.

But in the end we have to remember that these commercials are a reflection of us. These companies don’t spend upwards of $60 million on TV ads annually because they don’t work. So let’s try to be a little better than the society depicted in beer ads. Let’s look at diversity as more than just window dressing, allow women to be treated like equals, and let’s start hanging out on the roof more. That’s one thing from these commercials we can get behind.

Conducting this beer commercial analysis forced us to watch upwards of two hours of ads. We could use a beer now (though probably not one of these).

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