Beer and nationalism

For some reason beer commercials have become one of the main vehicles for the representation of national identity, from Canada to Laos. The initiative comes from the beer companies themselves, looking for a way to sell more beer. They seem to operate according to the following logic: Young men drink beer. Young men are nationalist. Therefore: promoting nationalist pride will lead people to drink more beer.
The leading example of beer nationalism is the ad Molson titled “I am Canadian,” launched in 2000. Witty and ironic, “the Rant” became a viral hit in Canada and spawned a stream of imitators, including a Startrek version and “I am not American” from the Arrogant Worms. Molson continued to churn out commercials on the same theme, though they were increasingly crass. In 2005, after Molson’s merger with American brewer Coors, Molson retired the “I am Canadian” slogan. The central theme of the Molson campaign, familiar to scholars of nationalism and Edward Said’s Orientalism, is that Canadian identity is defined in opposition to the American “other.” The theme was picked by other marketing campaigns in Canada, as in this ad by the Japanese automaker Nissan.
Molson’s success was emulated elsewhere, notably by Fosters, the Australian beer giant, in their I Believe campaign. Australia’s Bluetooth beer company took the beer-nationalism theme to a new level. A supporter of the anti-whaling activities of the Sea Shepherd craft, Bluetooth produced this truly disturbing commercial in support of a boycott of Japanese beer.
This Zagorka ad from Bulgaria has folk singers, water nymphs – and football. Over in Laos Beerlao dominates the domestic market with its national-themed ads, some of them aimed at tourists, as discussed in this USA Today article. Many of these national brands, from Tsingtao in China to Quilmes in Argentina – not forgetting Budweiser in the USA – were set up by German emigres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The founders of Anheuser-Busch were from Ceske Budejovice in Bohemia: a copyright dispute over use of the town’s name between Budweiser and the Czech Budvar brewery lingers to this day.
The beer-nationalism nexus has attracted the attention of scholars, from marketing experts to students of popular culture. Leanne White analyzed the Fosters campaign in her 2009 article  “Foster’s Lager: from local beer to global icon.” Eliot Brockner writes about the marketing campaign of Quilmes in Argentina, which includes ads targeted on specific regions within the country. Beer is intensely local, since historically it was brewed locally and was difficult to transport out of the home region, until the advent of refrigerated railcars in the 1930s (That was Anheuser-Busch’s key to success, enabling them to create a national market for beer after the repeal of Prohibition.)
There have been two recent books related to this subject:  Beer, Sociability, and Masculinity in South Africa, by Anne Kelk Mager (Indiana University Press 2010) and Sport, Beer, and Gender: Promotional Culture and Contemporary Social Life, by Lawrence A. Wenner and Steven Jackson (eds.) (Peter Lang, 2009), though both are more interested in gender socialization than political nationalism.

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One thought on “Beer and nationalism

  1. Pingback: Rutland on Beer and Nationalism « nonsenseonstilts

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