Brewers Keep Their Distance From Beer Comedies

Despite Apparent Fit, Product Placement Can Often Conflict With Brand Image

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The deal: Hollywood is readying to release two comedies, "Beerfest" and "Beer League," that are expected to tap into the young male market.

The result: No beer brands are attached to the films, given their rating and visuals of excessive drinking.

Two German beer brands appear in 'Beerfest' but major U.S. brewers shied away from the R-rated comedy.

Hollywood is releasing two feature films in the coming weeks that are drenched in more beer than an Oktoberfest, yet there are no major beer marketers anywhere in sight, either as promotional partners or set dressing.

What gives? For one, excessive drinking is definitely not "on message," and Warner Bros.' "Beerfest" and Echo Bridge Entertainment's "Beer League" feature plenty of it.

Like 'Fight Club' with beer games

Warner Bros. is readying the Aug. 25 launch of "Beerfest," an R-rated goofball comedy set in Germany in which the characters "stumble upon a secret centuries-old competition described as a Fight Club with beer games," according to the production notes. The movie's directing and writing team also worked on teen-male magnets such as the stoner comedy "Club Dread" and the big-screen remake "Dukes of Hazzard."

The studio approached a number of major beer marketers, including SAB Miller and Anheuser-Busch, which declined to be involved. They got the joke, they just couldn't see themselves starring alongside drunken softball players and burping beer chuggers, executives said.

"We're all for good fun, and nobody loves beer more than we do," said Tim Schoen, VP-sports and entertainment marketing, Anheuser-Busch. "That said, even though this movie is meant as a spoof, the beer-drinking occasions weren't in alignment with the way we portray our company and our brands."

Anheuser-Busch's product-placement policies

A-B receives more than 300 films scripts a year from major studios and independent producers, Mr. Schoen said. And the marketer has stringent policies on how and when its products can be used -- for instance, only in movies that appeal to adults. They won't allow the brand to appear in movies that imply the company condones alcohol abuse, drunken driving or underage drinking.

Approaching major beer marketers isn't without its difficulties.

Warner Bros. executives, who ended up placing a few niche beer brands into the movie, said beer marketers want exclusivity in a film, the same as any other promotional partner. For a comedy such as "Beerfest" it wouldn't have made sense for everyone to be drinking only one brand of beer in a massive beer-swilling contest.

German brews Spaten, which is an official sponsor of Munich's Oktoberfest, and Radeberger, which has some distribution in the U.S., are placed in the movie, though neither extended that relationship to an off-screen promotion.

Had the studio made a deal with a major American beer marketer, executives would have had to curtail some of their own promotion around the film. They would've been able to market "Beerfest" only to those 21 and over. Instead, the studio plans to hype the comedy broadly, aiming at anyone over 17.

The marketing irony of 'Beerfest'

This marketing dilemma highlights the irony in the "Beerfest" situation.

"If we have an R-rated movie, that's one of the few times we can actually work with a liquor company," said Mimi Slavin, Warner Bros.' senior VP-promotions. "But that's also if the majority of our marketing is aimed at an older audience, and for this movie, we didn't want to limit our ability to market to 17-plus."

While studios partnerships with alcohol marketers are somewhat rare, R-rated movies such as New Line's "Wedding Crashers" featured an Anheuser-Busch tie-in, and numerous films in the James Bond franchise have had both beer (Heineken) and vodka (Smirnoff) partnerships.

Another movie has tons of drinking but no formal product placement deals with beer marketers.

Howard Stern sidekick

"Beer League," written by and starring Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange, follows some hard-drinking misfits who transform their softball team, a la "The Bad News Bears" and dozens of other losers-make-good stories. The movie is rated R for "nonstop language including strong sexual references, sexuality, nudity and drug use," according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Its tagline: "No gut, no glory."

Again, perhaps not surprisingly, major beer marketers stayed away in droves, though, a betting website, is partnering for the Sept. 13 premiere and a number of parties to help drum up attention.

"I just saw the trailer," said John Matesich, president of Matesich Distributing Co., an Anheuser-Busch distributor in Newark, Ohio. "Safe to say they'll be avoiding it like the bird flu."
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