One of the most successful (and yet, unsuccessful) marketing campaigns ever . . .

It’s marketing month at the Shasta-Cascade SBDC! 

In that spirit, we thought you might enjoy the story of Piel’s Beer. 

Harry & Bert Piel

Piel’s Beer was a successful product that was sold in the New England area. 

By the early 1950s, Piel’s had been around for nearly seven decades. But, it was facing some stiff competition from national brands, like Budweiser, Hamm’s and Schlitz. 

Piel’s responded by expanding its brewery and undertaking an advertising campaign that would go down in marketing history, both as an example of a strong success, and yet, a cautionary tale. 

The company and its ad agency created two fictional animated brothers, Harry and Bert Piel (voiced by the popular comedy duo Bob and Ray).  They produced and aired a series of television spots featuring the characters – and the commercials became wildly popular. 

The characters and the ads were silly, lovable and became the 1950s television equivalent of “trending”:

  • A New York Daily News columnist was quoted as saying, “We never thought we would see the day that viewers actually enjoyed watching a TV commercial.” 
  • People would stay home and watch certain shows, just to see the latest Piel’s Beer ad. 
  • Some recent articles have stated that the local TV Guide even listed air dates for the spots. 

The ads ran from 1955 to 1960 (you can find some of them on YouTube).  A 1960 Time magazine article stated that, for three years during that period (1955-58), “Piel’s sales set new records.”

But, sales didn’t continue to rise; in fact, they flattened out. 

One beer marketing expert said that people who bought the beer “hated it and spread the news everywhere about how awful it was.  It was a case of terrible word of mouth caused by a wonderful ad campaign.”

The brewery was sold a few years later.

There are a lot of articles and post-mortems around that insist that Piel’s went out of business because their product was awful.  But, remember, Piel’s had been selling its beer for over 70 years before the ads aired. 

Perhaps the issue wasn’t that the beer was bad, but rather that the larger, competitors’ products were better? 

After all, the larger companies took out a lot of smaller breweries during this period; in 1934, there were over 700 beer makers in the US.  Less than 30 years later 500 of them were gone. 

So, what’s the lesson here?  Probably that great marketing is important, but ultimately (and obviously), if a business doesn’t have a better product or service than the competition, little else may matter.

Contact us at the Shasta-Cascade SBDC for help with marketing: emily@norcalsbdc.org 

© 2016, 2021 – 5 WAVES – All rights reserved.  Used by permission.


Sources:

Maeder, Jay. “From Bob and Ray . . . Bert and Harry Piel Chapter 36”, New York Daily News, Apr 8, 2002; retrieved from: https://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/bob-ray-bert-harry-piel-chapter-36-article-1.478958

Deitch, Gene.  Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding (Bob & Ray), GeneDeitchCredits.wordpress.com; retrieved from: https://genedeitchcredits.wordpress.com/roll-the-credits/20-bob-elliott-ray-goulding-bob-ray/

ADVERTISING: Ailing Bert & Harry, Time, 12 Dec 1960.

Miller, Carl. Beer Commercials: A Brief History, reprinted from All About Beer magazine, 2002; retrieved from: http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/beer_commercials.shtml

Johnson, William Oscar. Sports and SUDS: The beer business and the sports world have brewed up a potential partnership, Sports Illustrated, 8 Aug 1988.