Schlitz became known as Milwaukee's premium beer after the 1871 fire that devastated Chicago. The blaze destroyed the city's breweries, and Schlitz filled the void by establishing 2,000 taverns, saloons and other retail locations between Milwaukee and Chicago. Schlitz became one of the first breweries to engage in outer-region marketing. Its "The beer that made Milwaukee famous" slogan first appeared in Schlitz ads around 1893, joining the "belted globe" logo, which had been introduced in 1886.
In the late 1880s, brewers took their products to county and state fairs in search of consumer support, and the Olympics of beer competitions were the world's fairs. In 1893, while Pabst won the blue ribbon for its entry at the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago, Schlitz took the top prize for beer purity, an award it leveraged in ads. As a result, Schlitz briefly became the U.S.' top-selling brewer.
But Schlitz's popularity began to wane, and soon after the turn of the century, the brewer tapped the J.L. Stack agency in Racine, Wis., to help it regain its lost status. Stack assigned the account to Claude Hopkins, who engineered a new national ad campaign around the brew's purity claim.
Schlitz advertised the purity of its beer in a number of ways. Some ad copy explained why the beer was healthy to drink; other copy let the reader "listen in" on a conversation between two doctors who agreed that beer was a healthful beverage. Frequently the copy was accompanied by the Schlitz maiden, "Purity," in various stages of undress, sometimes holding a white dove, to underscore the company's claim.
Ads were topped off by the Schlitz globe and the "Beer that made Milwaukee famous" tagline. The campaign helped Schlitz regain its No. 1 status.
After 1910, beer sales again began to dry up due in large part to the onset of World War I and Prohibition. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, Congress restricted the use of the foodstuffs needed for the production of alcoholic beverages. That war-born spirit of self-denial also helped accelerate the wave of anti-alcohol sentiment that was sweeping the country at the time.
Many leading brewers, such as Schlitz, were of German descent, and that made the drive against alcohol all the more popular. Between 1920 and '33, Prohibition forced Schlitz to remove nearly all the alcohol from its beverage, then marketed as Famo and Schlitz Special Brew.
Stack handled the Schlitz account until 1933, when the brewer moved it to McJunkin Advertising. Over a 13-year period, McJunkin encouraged beer drinkers to rediscover Schlitz by promoting "that famous flavor" and offering it as an acceptable beverage to upscale audiences by touting it as "a distinguished beer" suitable "for great occasions." It also helped promote Old Milwaukee, a new beer Schlitz had introduced.
World War II, however, forced another curtailment of production, and the company refocused on its flagship product. In 1943, McJunkin introduced the "Kiss of the Hops" campaign for Schlitz.
Young & Rubicam took over the account from 1947 until 1951, when Schlitz diversified its advertising in an attempt to take advantage of the growing popularity of TV. It gave the TV and radio portions of the account to Lennen & Newell, which launched "The Schlitz Playhouse of Stars" on CBS. Irwin & Vladimir was given responsibility for promoting Schlitz overseas, while Leo Burnett Co. drew the job of selling the beer via outdoor advertising.
Some of Schlitz's print ads were criticized for the way they portrayed women, while other ads' use of "Schlitzwords," such as "schlitznic" for picnic, also failed to win favor with beer drinkers. J. Walter Thompson Co. handled the account from 1956 until '61, hyping Old Milwaukee beer as the "True Milwaukee beer flavor" while at the same time urging consumers to "Move up to quality; move up to Schlitz."
Burnett landed the brewer's account in 1962, and held onto it for almost 17 years. Burnett introduced Schlitz Malt Liquor, Schlitz Lite and Erlanger, while continuing to advertise Schlitz and Old Milwaukee.
"Go for the gusto"
In 1966, Burnett created the well-known tagline "When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer" for Schlitz. The agency boosted Schlitz's name recognition with the "Gusto" campaign. Consumers were invited to "Enjoy real gusto," "Reach for the gusto," "Go for the gusto" and reminded that "You only go around once in life: Go for all the gusto you can."
In 1976, Burnett dropped the gusto approach and appealed to drinkers by telling them that "When it's right, you know it," that "Schlitz makes it great" and "There's just one word for beer: Schlitz—and you know it."
The campaign produced results, but not the results Schlitz had anticipated. Miller Brewing passed Schlitz in terms of sales, dropping it to No. 3 behind Miller and Budweiser, which had taken the No. 1 spot from Schlitz in 1957.
In 1978, the Schlitz account returned to JWT, which tried to resurrect the gusto strategy with the tagline "If you don't have Schlitz, you don't have gusto." But the campaign backfired and was scrapped for a series of promotions built around a taste test.
Schlitz remained No. 3 until 1981, when the brewery was sold to the Peter Stroh Brewery. The sale marked the end of the trail for Schlitz in Milwaukee, as Stroh relocated the operation to Detroit and gave the ad account to W.B. Doner & Co. In early 1999, Schlitz became part of the Pabst brewing operation.