The Stella Artois "Reassuringly Expensive" Campaign

The Story of an Historic Lager Campaign

Stella Artois Lager
Stella Artois Lager. Getty Images

Let's talk about beer, and image. You have no doubt seen Stella Artois on offer in your local liquor stores, bars, and clubs. But your perception of it may be vary depending on where you have lived.

If you resided in the United Kingdom between the years of 1982 and 2007, you will know the phrase "Reassuringly Expensive" and will instantly associate it with Stella Artois, the Belgian lager beer. With its clean, white can and ornate crest, it looks at home with the moniker of an expensive lager, and has always tried to live up to that image.

 

A Brief History of Stella Artois Advertising

The origins of the campaign lie with Sir Frank Budge Lowe, an advertiser who was working on Stella Artois at Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP) in the 1970s. One of his most famous ads had the brilliant headline "My Shout, He Whispered" and the roots of the Reassuringly Expensive campaign can clearly be seen in that execution. Stella is pricey, and you don't want to be dipping your hand in your pocket to buy a round. But you get what you pay for. In this case, real quality. 

When Frank Lowe left CDP in 1981 to form Lowe Howard-Spink (which become Lowe and Partners Worldwide) he took the lucrative Stella Artois account with him. A year later, the Reassuringly Expensive campaign was launched, turning a major negative for the brand (high price) into a champion for the product. Now, paying more for the beer was a guarantee of quality, which made it rise above the cheaper competitors.

Print ads in the campaign really pushed the idea of luxury worth paying for. One that stands out, from 1984, shows a pint of Stella Artois next to a plate containing a single sausage. The headline - "Tut, tut. Another expensive account lunch."

Another shows a bar at closing time - "Come along gentlemen.

Haven't you got mansions to go to?" The print campaign continued in this vein until 1990. Then came the now legendary ads that mirrored European cinema.


Stella Artois Creates Ties to the Movie Industry
A creative director working at Lowe, on the Stella Artois account, happened to catch a viewing of Jean do Florette. It's a classic of modern French cinema, released in 1986 and featuring Yves Montand and Gérard Depardieu. This inspired the creative director to write a script based on a very similar idea, and the result was Jacques de Florette - a TV and cinema ad that spawned an entire series of award-winning ads.

This firmly planted the idea of Reassuringly Expensive in the minds of the consumers, and it did it with a delicate touch of wit and some superb cinematography. It was accompanied by a soundtrack that becomes synonymous with the Stella Artois brand. Although the ad was aimed at an English speaking audience, it was filmed entirely in French and had no subtitles. It didn't need them. Watch for yourself, you'll get the message.

Stella Artois maintained its links with cinema by sponsoring various movie events and festivals, notably with Channel 4. And between 1991 and 2002, seven of the Jacques de Florette styled ads aired, with the last one -- Good Doctor - receiving more prestigious advertising awards than any other campaign that year.


 

Shedding the Wife Beater Image

Unfortunately, Stella Artois has not always been able to live up to the high-end claims of its advertising. It has nothing to do with the quality of the beer but the association with "lager louts" who, for some reason, chose Stella Artois as their drink of choice. It became a popular drink amongst soccer hooligans, binge-drinkers, and pub brawlers, earning it the nickname "wife beater."

In 2007, the Reassuringly Expensive campaign and slogan was dropped for good, and the word Stella was avoided in the ads. Ironically, Stella Artois is now one of the cheaper beers in the liquor stores and lager aisles, coming in at the same price as most domestic brews.
 

Stella Artois - Drink From a Chalice, Not a Glass

The latest campaign from Stella Artois revolves not around the drink itself, but how to drink it.

And, what to drink it from. In a massive promotion that spanned the web, telephone recordings, print ads and more, Stella Artois encouraged its drinkers to sip the exquisite lager from a Stella Artois Chalice, which they were giving away free. Thousands and thousands of people responded to the 1-800-MY-CHALICE promotion. But it did come with a slight drawback. At the same time, Newcastle Brown Ale went in a very different direction, doing brutally honest ads under the "no bollocks" campaign (no bollocks is British slang for no bullsh*t). The ad "Who Uses The Word 'Chalice?'" was brilliant enough, but positioning these ads side by side with the Stella Artois ads was a genius media buy.