Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Beer ad hard to swallow

The waterfront dispute, not beer, sparked riots in 1951. Photo / NZ Herald
The waterfront dispute, not beer, sparked riots in 1951. Photo / NZ Herald

It claims to tell the little-known story of how a Kiwi inventor battled an unjust tax to give full strength beer to the common bloke.

But an advertising campaign that describes how brewing magnate Morton Coutts was inspired to create DB Export has been dismissed as a "figment of an ad man's hangover" by writers and historians.

The advert, created by Colenso BBDO, claims that the "Black Budget" of 1958 taxed imported beer out of the reach of the common man.

According to the clip, the tax sparked street riots and resulted in the first full strength domestic beer at affordable prices for working class drinkers.

Historians are lining up to attack the advert's accuracy, claiming it presents a gross distortion of history that could become better known than the actual events.

And the Advertising Standards Authority has received four complaints that the ad is misleading.

Former health minister and noted history writer Michael Bassett said: "The accusation that New Zealand men 'were deprived of an honest beer' is hogwash. They simply had to pay a little more for it. There were certainly no riots in the streets."

Admakers admit they "improvised" by using footage of rioting from the 1951 waterfront protests - but stand by the rest of the story.

Colenso BBDO executive creative director Nick Worthington added: "I don't think a beer brand wants to be the guardians of history, we want to tell great stories."

The advert casts beer inventor Coutts as the hero against the teetotal Finance Minister of the day Arnold Nordmeyer as villain. It appears to take credit for Labour being voted out of Government at the 1960 general election.

Author Gordon McLauchlan, who wrote The Story of New Zealand Beer, dismissed the ad as fiction. "There is hardly a single correct fact or impression in it, except the names of Nordmeyer and Morton Coutts. I'd say this fictitious little melodrama is the figment of an ad man's hangover."

Left commentator Chris Trotter added that the campaign "creates an alternative New Zealand history quite blatantly".

But Worthington said they spent 16 months researching the ad and interviewed dozens of people. He said: "I guess everyone has a different version of history. We were hoping to tell a story that had never been told before."

DB Export marketing manager Dave Shoemack said: "We simply wanted to create a commercial that told the DB Export story and that is exactly what we have done."

- Herald on Sunday

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