Spirits Adverts in The New Yorker (1975)

The upmarket New Yorker, targeted at affluent, educated, metropolitan sophisticates — which, if it was explained in a venn diagram would include a circle that intersected with ‘establishment’, ‘the elite’, and ‘conservative liberal’. It’s a premium space for advertisers to promote their products to consumers who expect to pay for quality.

With this audience in mind, spirits distributors placed what they hoped would be seductive adverts in the magazine. Looking back at these, they are not so much a record of premium tastes that existed in 1975, so much as a document of what advertisers hoped they could establish as the de facto market leader. The sales technique associates the product with a lifestyle the audience aspires to, or reflects how they wish to be seen by others. It reinforces a belief about the buyer.

The Johnnie Walker Red whisky advert appeals to ‘generous taste’, the connoisseur who can recognise quality, and the popularity associated with generosity. The image of two men and two women at a beach house overlooking the sea, enjoying a barbecue and a whisky with 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? On the Hamptons? California? Florida? It doesn’t matter — they are in a place called Success. And that’s where the audience wants to be.

The Canadian Club advert is targeting an active and confident audience, but is also the kind of person who likes to be reissued 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 in the photos. The random snippets, as if from a magazine interview, lend the advert a funky spontaneity. The character is basically a persona who represents the brand image. 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 who knows how to get ahead. He gets what he wants. He is, in short, a winner.
The JB Rare whisky advert features an attractive blue-eyed woman who epitomises what the target audience desires in a woman, and by association what the advert wants the audience to associate with the brand. She is fashionably contemporary without being showy. Tastefully restrained. Classy. This is quality that doesn’t have to shout about it — 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 text says: ‘Rare taste. Either you have it. Or you don’t.’ The message urges the audience to bypass logic and accept the simple fact: JB Rare has ‘it’. You know it, so enjoy it. No other justification is required.

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 mindset — the art of seduction. Strega is more than just a delicious drink for the connoisseur, it’s an elixir, a magical love potion. It will imbue you with special powers. And, like love, it might make you feel slightly light-headed.