Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Bad Adverts: Stella Artois' Cidre (Not Cider)

Back when I used to watch adverts on TV I seem to recall Stella Artois had pretty good ads.

They were stylised, filmic, narrative-based ads that - while never ringing true to the product I knew and didn't particularly love - had a classy feel to them: depicting scenes of French cinema heavily reminiscent of Claude Berri's excellent screen adaptations of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources - despite those stories being set in rural Provence: about 1,000 km south of Stella's Flemish homeland of Leuven.

And they traded - very successfully, it seems - on one of Stella's many weak points: its relatively high price.

"Reassuringly Expensive" was the memorable slogan, and it was used as a punchline to the many slightly disturbing vignettes of Fran├žais screwing each other over - lying, cheating and stealing - all to get a crisp, refreshing, delicious pint of Stella Artois: which - in the microcosm of that protracted ad campaign - was convincingly superior in taste to all other lagers: be they supermarket bulk-buys, or amber nectar foaming from the taps of rural French taverns.

Nowadays, having conquered the UK with the worst possible indication of what Belgian beer has to offer, Stella Artois are making a half-arsed play at the booming UK cider market, and - judging by the above billboard and others that preceded it - doing so with a cack-handed mix of their previous traditional French (because nobody understands Belgian identity, including Belgians) credentials, with a dash of misplaced superiority and/or condescension thrown in for good measure.

There's a woman riding a bike with a basketful of apples attached to it - exactly the kind of woman who would never ride a bike with a basketful of apples attached to it; she has teeth. There are arrows. Why are there arrows? Arrows are not an accepted form of punctuation. Other than this the design is pleasant and free from blame.

Moving on; Belgium and beer go together like European unity and bureaucracy. But if your brand primarily trades on masquerading as a culturally dominant neighbour - which it does, even if not consciously, even if those classic ads were set or filmed in Flemland - I would advise against playing on the perceived misplaced arrogance of said neighbour in relation to their increasingly un-international language.

French is only "the fourth most widely spoken mother tongue in the European Union"*, and is on its way out as the 2nd language of English schools up and down the country in favour of German (more akin), Spanish (easier) and various dialects of Chinese (more useful).

Basing your campaign around the fact that you've spelt the English word "Cider" using the French form "Cidre" and seem unduly delighted about this completely uninteresting and undoubtedly-not-unique element of the dubious product you've magicked into existence is surely not a way to win over an audience (you, the British public) who are already over-subscribed with Magnerses, Gaymerses, Bulmerses, Strongbows, Blackthorns, and - for the even less discerning customer - Frosty Jacks, White Lightnings and Woodpeckers.

Come to think of it, obviously anyone who actually likes cider (or cidre, for that matter - I am aware they make shed-loads of it in Normandy and Brittany, although Belgian Trappist Cidre is not on my radar...) will not go near a Stella Artois branded attempt on its life with a six foot punt. And for those casual pub drinkers who go for the pub-peddled pints from the above list (be they bottled and iced or whatever), is there any need for further choice anxiety? A Stella (beer) drinker is unlikely to drop his reassuringly expensive gas-and-hops-and-piss for gas-and-apple-and-piss, so it must be that market they're trying to pilfer.

So this bad advert of aborted Franglais, with its presumably-equally-bad accompanying TV campaign that I haven't seen, is aimed squarely at the casual British cider lout, who is, as we all know, a massive racist. Good luck winning them over with caricatures of the historically-derided arrogance of their natural enemy, the French. Good luck trying to convince a demographic who don't want to be part of your continent that "continental" is better than their green and pleasant "countryside"

This thing not that thing. Yeah, I get it: it's a campaign. You can build on it. Only problem is, it's shit; you'd as well try and sell Yorkshire Tea to Sarah Palin, Irish Moss to the Irish, or golliwoggs to yardies.

Or Stella Artois (beer flavour, or cider flavour) to me.

They can't even decide how much French to use; there's obviously been a conversation about whether people will know "c'est" or "pas", and if not, whether they'll be able to guess from context, so a decision has been made to opt for:
"C'est Cidre ---> Not Cider"
A sentence nobody - French, English, or some unholy union betwixt the two - would ever use, with or without the bloody arrow.

Your irate billboard noticer,

Alexander Velky


Here's some Franglais I do like:

* Wikipedia - truth magnet.


  1. Do you read Pete Brown's blog, Alex? He wrote some cracking posts about Stella Cider a while back:

    Personally I agree with all of the above although I think you're a bit kind to the beer flavour of Stella - A mass-produced approximation of a German style that's been brewed in Belgium for < 100 years just doesn't bear comparison with proper Belgian beer...

  2. No, perhaps it's misleading even to acknowledge its Belgian "roots" - I was surprised it was still made there at all to be honest. I imagine more is made in the UK.

    Thanks for the links :)