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Spirits: The wonderfully cheesy world of liquor ads

Last month, Svedka vodka became the latest spirits brand to launch a major TV advertising campaign, featuring its “fembot” character declaring Svedka to be the “#1 Vodka of 2033.” As the New York Times recently reported, Svedka, whose sales have grown 42 percent since 2004, joins a rather small group of large brands in television advertising, including Captain Morgan, Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels.

Advertising spirits on American television is not that old of a genre; it’s been permitted only since 1996. And to be honest, most of it so far has been a little … well, if we’re being honest, a little cheesy. Case in point: those “Disaronno on the rocks” ads in which the woman seductively licks her ice cube for the studly bartender.

Svedka’s ad stays true to the genre’s cheesiness. It screams “Futuristic!” But it’s the sort of “future” I remember imagining when I was a middle-school student in the 1980s, wearing parachute pants and trying to learn how to breakdance by watching MTV.

Now, this is not a knock, because I am a huge, huge fan — a connoisseur, really — of cheesy liquor ads, from all over the world. My current favorite would be the Bacardi “True Originals” series in which a suave, sophisticated gentleman with a seductive Latin accent (whose face we never see) is on a worldwide quest to find “True Original” bartenders, such as the one making him a pina colada (above). It’s sort of like J. Peterman Meets That Guy From The Dos Equis Ads.

Of course, to find truly great examples of this genre, we must leave the country. Italy is a treasure trove.

Some of my favorite spots are for Aperol, the bright orange low-proof cousin of Campari. These ads are sort of like the Mentos commercials of booze. There’s always some kind of dilemma, a traffic jam
or a crowded bar (above), or maybe just the Sheryl Crow song “Run, Baby, Run” and a long, winding staircase
that’s getting in the way of a someone sipping a delicious Aperol Spritz.

Of course, sex appeal is a huge part of Italian booze advertising, and Martini vermouth knows how to deliver: by hiring Hollywood actors such as Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow and George Clooney (above) to appear in commercials they would probably never agree to in the States. Particularly Theron, and in fact I'm not linking to that one because my editor invoked the age-old "family newspaper" argument.

Campari followed suit with sexy ads featuring Salma Hayek and Jessica Alba, but to me the strangest, sexiest, most over-top-avant-garde Campari ad of them all (above) features a hotel stalking, a bright red aperitif spill, and revelations of, well, you just have to watch it.

Of course, anyone who saw "Lost in Translation" knows about stars shilling for foreign liquor brands, as Bill Murray’s character did comically for the Japanese whiskey, Suntory. The REAL Suntory ads may be even more comical. Like this ponderous commercial (above) from the early 1990s featuring Sean Connery. I’m not sure what the message is: Drink our whiskey and you’ll feel like a lonely old man?

Going further back in history is the early 1980s Dubonnet ad (above) from Britain featuring Pia Zadora as the “Dubonnet Girl” is a must-see for aficionados of Eurotrash. Zadora plays sensually with ribbon and peers out between gauzy curtains while her Continental lover approaches by motorcycle -- wearing a helmet, tuxedo and white scarf -- for their rendezvous.

From the same era are the classic Cinzano ads from Britain, starring Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins, in which Collins always ends up getting a Cinzano spilled on her as the punchline.

Finally, for a real laugh, are European commercials for Jagermeister, extolling club-goers to enjoy their shots “ice cold." One (above) features a couple of muscle-bound guys, one with his Jagermeister tattoo thumping to the house music beat. The other one focuses on women, and let's just say I can't write anything more. (See the "family newspaper" reference above.)

Now it's your turn. First, which of the above is your favorite? Second, I’m always looking for more examples of this type of commercial, so tip me off to any I might have missed.

-- Jason Wilson
(Follow me on Twitter.)

By The Food Section  |  March 12, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Television  | Tags: Jason Wilson, Spirits, television  
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