JB Rare

Spirits adverts in The New Yorker (1975)

The upmarket The New Yorker magazine, targets affluent, educated, metropolitan sophisticates. If their audience was a Venn diagram would include the intersecting circles of: ‘establishment’, ‘the elite’, and ‘liberal’. It’s a premium magazine for advertisers to promote their products to consumers who have the spending power to pay for perceived quality.

With this audience in mind, spirits distributors advertised in The New Yorker in an attempt to set the tone of exclusivity and luxury for their products, and to market their drinks to people with a disposable income. The striking thing about these adverts is that they don’t reflect prevailing notions of established luxury in so-called ‘high class’ society, but that they show the drinks distributors’ desire to associate their products with consumer aspirations. These adverts usually connected their product to a desirable lifestyle—the playboy, the man of means and leisure. These adverts reflect how consumers not just see themselves, but how they want other people to see then. In other words, they reinforced a belief consumers had about themselves.

Johnnie Walker Red
Johnnie Walker Red

The Johnnie Walker Red whisky advert appeals to ‘generous taste’, the connoisseur who can recognise quality, and the popularity that comes with generosity. The image of two men and two women at a beach house overlooking the sea, enjoying a barbecue and a whisky on ice—this is a statement of social and financial success. These attractive people, enjoying the sunshine, dressed in swimwear, engaged in interesting and amusing conversation epitomise affluent, liberal thinking. Where are they? At the Hamptons? California? Florida? It doesn’t matter—they are in a place called Success. And that’s where the audience wants to be.

Canadian Club
Canadian Club

The Canadian Club advert targets an audience that identifies itself as active and confident. It’s aimed at the kind of person who likes to be reassured by a product’s pedigree (hence the prominent badge of royal approval). The text is made up of quotes from the ‘person’ we assume is the subject of the photos—these adverts are, almost always, aimed at men. The random snippets, as if from a magazine interview gives the advert a certain off-the-cuff spontaneity. The character is basically a persona that represents the brand. He is likeable, knows how the world works, plays hard and works hard (but the good things in life, we imagine, come easy to him). He is an alpha male, an achiever—a kind of James Bond—a man who knows how to get ahead. He gets what he wants. He’s ‘a winner’.

JB Rare
JB Ra

The JB Rare whisky advert features an attractive blue-eyed woman who epitomises what the target male audience desires in a woman, and by association what the advert hopes to associate with the product. She is fashionably contemporary without being showy. Tastefully restrained. Classy. She’s the kind of person who doesn’t have to shout about herself—much like the audience. The thing with looks, or intelligence, is that you have it or you do not. And if you’ve got it—enjoy it. As the copy declares: ‘Rare taste. Either you have it. Or you don’t.’ The message urges the audience to bypass logic and accept the simple fact that JB Rare has ‘it’. No other justification is required—go ahead and enjoy yourself.

Strega
Strega

The Strega advert paints a ‘sensual’ picture of timeless luxury and romance. The classic male hero seduces a beautiful woman after an exquisite meal. The impression is one of doing things the traditional way—the age-old art of seduction. The Italian spirit Strega is part of a romantic mind-set—the art of seduction. Strega is more than just a delicious drink for the connoisseur, it’s an elixir, a magic love potion. It will imbue you with special powers. And, like love, it will make you feel light-headed.

Categories Culture

Adrian Graham blogs and writes fiction. He’s studying for an MA in Creative Writing.