Last Updated: December 3, 2020

The camera pans across a dark, smoky club, where beautiful women surround a bearded man who regales listeners with tales of his manly deeds. Images flash of the man arm wrestling a South American dictator, saving a bear from a trap, capturing an enormous fish to the delight of his female companion – this is the most interesting man in the world.

At least, that’s the message brewing company Dos Equis hopes to hammer home as the gentleman settles down with a cold, refreshing beer that matches his values and point of view. Want to be as interesting and manly as this spokesperson? Drink our beer.

This link between brand and identity is rooted in an understanding of consumer psychology and how customers process advertisements. Professionals in the beer advertising industry have long sought to make these connections – with some experiencing more success than others. Read on to learn some of the psychological underpinnings marketers consider when advertising beer.

The Psychology of Marketing Beer

Brand and CommercialExplanation of AdvertisementDemographicsPsychological Response Elicited
Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man”Shows an “interesting man”, surrounded by beautiful women, exudes self-confidence and bravery.Males, ages 21-40 yearsEnvy of Success: You envy the man’s lifestyle and value his taste. One of the easiest ways to imitate this man’s life is to drink Dos Equis.
Budlight “Wine and Cheese Party”A man attends a wine and cheese party with his wife, only to reveal the plate he brought contains budlight which he shares with his male friends in the other room.Males, ages 25-45 yearsDesire for Bonding: You identify with the group of friends, invoking past memories of ditching girlfriends and sharing a manly moment during game day. Buy a Budlight to connect with your friends.
Amstel Bier “This one’s for the ladies”Various women are shown in obnoxious situations putting up with inappropriate behavior from their boyfriends.Females, ages 21-30 and Males, ages 25-45Humor and Romance: Even if things in a relationship don’t always go the way you’ve planned, you’re still in love. Husbands/boyfriends offer their significant others a beer at the end, thanking the girls for putting up with them. Make it up to your SO by offering them an Amstel.

Capturing consumer attention

Advertising in alcohol is a bit different from advertising in other product categories. For one, much of advertising in alcohol isn’t aimed at increasing the overall number of drinkers – in fact, specific regulations prevent the alcohol industry from designing ads in such a way.

Instead, marketers typically design advertisements with the goal of increasing visibility of their specific brand and capturing the attentions of potential consumers. Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are two of the biggest spenders in the brewing industry, together spending over $1 billion for advertising in 2010, each seeking to dominate the “light beer” market.

Rules for Advertising Beer

  • Commercial can’t condone drunken driving
  • Can’t show rapid consumption of beer or drinking games
  • Can’t portray lack of control
  • Doesn’t imply illegal activity
  • Commercials can only be played when 70% of audience is expected to be of legal drinking age
  • Can’t make unwarranted claims about health benefits

Source: The Beer Institute

While some consumers might question the difference in taste between, for example, Coors Light and Bud Light, each brand has its own diehard fans who have been won through effective advertising expenditure. These companies don’t hope to beat the other simply based on the qualities of their products, but instead employ attention-grabbing techniques that differentiate between their brands.

What grabs a beer drinker’s attention?

There are two main methods:

  • Humor
  • Sex

Both of these methods have been used to varying effects in the industry.

In “Assessing the Use and Impact of Humor on Advertising Effectiveness: A Contingency Approach,” by Harlan Spotts and others, the psychological understanding of humor is analyzed to determine how it might affect the success of an advertisement.

Fighting for Market Share

“…recent economic research using aggregated market data provides very little consistent evidence that alcohol advertising influences per capita alcohol consumption, sales, or problems. The bulk of this research supports the claim that alcohol advertising reallocates consumption among brands or beverage types.”

(NIAAA, 2000, p. 422).

Published in The Journal of Advertising, Spotts’s examination explores how humor in advertising affects consumer purchasing behavior. Spotts discovered that humor for certain products, like beer, is widely successful in advertising campaigns. Why?

  • Beer is a “low-risk purchase”
  • Consumers don’t heavily investigate qualities of a beer brand
  • Consumers better recall the attitude surrounding a brand

Most people can still remember the famous 1999 commercial for Budweiser featuring a group of friends watching football separately, drinking “a bud” and saying “wasssuppp?!” to each other over the phone in differing tones. The commercial itself doesn’t extoll any of the virtues of Budweiser beer, and yet the phrase and commercial were an overnight sensation, becoming engrained in pop culture.

Sex in Advertising: Not as Effective as Expected?

Humor might be the top way brands capture the attention of their viewers, but it’s far from the only way. Sexual desire has long been a driving force in society, but that force has come into question in recent years.

Research shows that advertisements that feature buxom ladies and skimpy bikinis sometimes have negative effects on consumers for one major reason: distraction.

A study conducted by research firm MediaAnalzyer Software and Research coined the term “vampire effect”, referring to the how sexual imagery sucked up attention that would be spent on an ad’s content. In a poll of men and women, an average of 22.3% of respondents correctly recalled the brand of a non-sexual advertisement, while only 10.8% recalled the brand of a sexual advertisement.

Beer commercials featuring buxom ladies in skimpy bikinis were once more common in the advertising industry, though modern usage has slowed. In 1999, for example, the publication Ad Age only listed eight sex-centric commercials in its list of 100 Top Ad Campaigns of the Century, featuring far more humorous ones.

Even after capturing a consumer’s attention, a brand needs to do enough to differentiate itself from competitors with ad content. To accomplish this task, marketers look to alter how consumers identify with their product.

Identifying with a brand

While humor might be one of the easiest ways to reel in new consumers (with advertising across multiple industries investing as much as $43 billion annually on humorous ads alone) the messaging behind those ads is what truly drives repeat customers.

Psychologically, humans feel the need to belong to a group or community. Advertisers in the alcohol industry understand this need to a high degree, targeting specific niches and audiences with identity messaging in commercials.

Super Bowl Spending - Beer Companies

  • 2007 – $23.9 million
  • 2008 – $21.6 million
  • 2009 – $27 million
  • 2010 – $32.7 million
  • 2011 – $21.7 million

Source: Nielson

Males tend to associate beer drinking with:

  • Mastery of Challenge
  • Tough Machismo
  • Bravery
  • Competitive Edge
  • Getting the Girl

Research in the field has shown advertisers capitalizing on these themes with great success. In “Reconceptualizing Alcohol Advertising Effects: A Consumer Psychology Perspective,” by researcher Joel B. Cohen, Coehn describes that successful alcohol commercials create “object-concept associations” that attract certain demographics.

These object-concept associations are broken into various categories, such as “product-social identity associations” and “product-emotionality associations” depending on the type of response they hope to elicit.

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For example, a beer company might want to associate their brand with feelings of pride. To help facilitate this association with consumers, they create an advertisement showing multiple scenes of football fans celebrating a touchdown by cracking open a beer.

Other themes like social standing and personality are heavily used in beer advertising. The sophisticated man reaching for a beer with high quality taste, the adventurous older gentleman selecting an exotic import beer – all common themes that attract individuals with a psychological desire to belong to a niche.

Consumer Psychology and Marketing

As psychologists gain more information on how humans process information, their work will continue to be absorbed into the marketing mix. For more information on how psychology and marketing intersect in the business world, click here.

Related Careers in the Field

Beer marketing is based in a psychological understanding of how to best reach consumers. To gain a bigger picture of what consumers want, advertisers turn to some of the following professionals:

Consumer Psychologists
Consumer psychologists work in research firms testing the effects of advertising on consumers in a variety of settings. By working in small groups, they conduct discussions, surveys, track eye movements, and determine the level of stimulation elicited by viewing a commercial. Learn more about Consumer Psychologists.

Marketing Researchers
Examine current demographics and target market areas that a brand might try to reach. Researches effective methods of advertising to these targeted groups, and reports back to marketing executives about what does or doesn’t work. Learn more about Marketing Researchers.