scuttlebutt! : under the cap

by Art Chantry (

back when i first started drinking – this was around 1970 or so – THE beer that we all drank was lucky lager. this was for several reasons: one, it tasted good. two, it was dirt cheap. and three, it had puzzles under the caps. when yer a drunk-ass teenage fukup, what better marketing campaign can you come up with to sell beer to minors, eh?

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back in those days, even attempting to market beer to minors (under 21 years of age in our state then) was seriously monitored. there were strict “blue laws” still in effect here in washington that made is specifically illegal to to do so. in fact, it was still illegal to sell anything above 3.2 alcohol in grocery stores or places outside of a state controlled liquor store – and it was illegal to sell ANY alcohol on sundays. so, selling beer to kids was serious biz (and also a big biz). marketing beer to kids was maybe the largest beer drinking demographic at that point with all them boomer tykes too old for high school, but not old enough to legally go into a bar. officially sanctioned beer advertising was serious business, only aimed at afterwork drinking (for blue collar worker brands) and weekends only drinking (for white collar worker brands). no kids, no fun in the sun, no partying. only serious relaxation for adults. the closest thing ad guys could come was semi-humorous cartoon mascots like the “hamm’s bear”. but it was lame, not clever.

i don’t know who actually came up with this idea or who crated all of these amazing puzzles, but they were pure genius. it immediately boosted lucky lager sales way up over the 25% market share with the young drinker. when they introduced ‘generic beer’ packaging back in the same period of time, it took off like mad. you see, all the ‘generic beer’ bottle caps had the rebus puzzles, too. so, we all knew where the generic beer actually came from (the lucky brewery) – and it was even cheaper. it tasted just like lucky lager, too. supercheap perfection!

we used to sit around our party house and could always find a subject to talk about – “hey, what does this one mean?” then we’d all have a stab at it and take it from there. next thing you know we were snap-shooting caps around the room (i once saw a friend break a plate-glass window snap-shooting a puzzle cap.)

another friend of mine started saving all his bottle caps from the beer he drank in one of those old glass ‘water cooler’ jugs (the ‘biguns’). when he finally topped it off (we drank a LOT of beer) he spent a nice drunken afternoon dumping them out on his living room floor and sorting through them. he discovered he had the entire collection of puzzle caps (they were all numbered. the sample i show you is no. 27. there were thousands.) well, all of them except ONE! that set him off on a quest for the missing puzzle cap – a quest that maybe he still pursues (staggering) to this day.

right about the time i got old enough to drink in taverns, the amazing rainier beer ad campaign (by heckler and associates in seattle) finally figured out how to sell beer to minors WITHOUT selling beer to minors. they used surreal parody and stoner humor – SEMI ‘kid stuff.’ these commercials changed the face of beer advertising forever by using outrageous humor as the key element in television beer ads (low budget) to make rainier beer (a beer so lousy tasting that we would never touch it. we called it ‘pisswater’) sell so suddenly HUGE that it literally instantly wiped out the northwest market on local brews. olympia (then the regional beer leader with something like 35% market share) went out of business within a couple of years. rainier suddenly skyrocketed from under 10% of the market in sales – to over 65%!!! it took less than a year, too. they didn’t even change their recipe or packaging, either. it was strictly the adverts.

so what were these rainier ads like? i have a vhs tape of the whole series that i may someday post for you (smuggled out of heckler’s offices, so it’s high quality, too). these commercials were stunningly original and amazing. everything from the start of claymation man, will vintnor, to the ORIGINAL ‘budweiser frogs’ (decades before bud copped the idea). i’m sure even a mere mention of what was in these ads will start a big list of comments by others about their favorites. the humor and the jokes became the stuff of local legend and culture. to this day we STILL use jokes taken from those ads in our everyday dialog up here – “get it yourself, BOB!!!”. or the “Rrrraaaaaaaaiiinnnnneeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrr…. BEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…..” motorcycle. there were too many to talk about here. but, these ads killed the competition because they made rainier “HIP” to the younger not-quite-legal drinker and lucky lager (and generic beer) was gone faster than spit (which is what rainier tasted like). so were the puzzles.

so, the genius of modern beer marketing was using humor to sell beer to minors without breaking any laws. they still do that today. that was probably heckler & associates fault, but i think the guy

started the whole trend was some obscure marketing guru who came up with this rebus puzzle campaign. it was so brilliant and it worked sooooo well. my hat is off to the guy. he really should go down in advertising history – whoever he is.

by the way, the answer to this puzzle i show you above is “scuttlebutt”. see my point?

here’s a link to the entire collection –


Rainier, he said, had burned through every ad agency in Seattle to little effect. Founded in 1884 in Georgetown and with the big red, rooftop R so well-known it was a landmark for Interstate 5 traffic reports, the company fell on hard times, dying in its own market.

“They said ‘OK, what can you do for us?’ ” Heckler remembered. “We were their last resort. They wanted something different.”

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So what Heckler and Associates did in 1971 was create an ad, now considered a local classic, that shows a through-the-windshield view of an off-screen couple and child driving through a national park. The wipers are like a metronome. Through the rain they see a “Beer Crossing” sign. Then, a family of 6-foot Rainiers (two bottles and a can) darts across the road.

“Oh! Oh! A whole herd of Rainier beers, ” the woman says. “They’re just so fresh and friendly.”

The Rainier executives were not sure what to think.

But they approved the campaign. What followed over the next 16 years not only made Rainier Washington’s most popular beer once again, but also became a template for an entire industry. The wild Rainiers; the Jacques Cousteau parody; the Rainier croaking frogs — poorly aped in later years by Budweiser; and maybe the all-time most popular: motorcycle on a lonely country road Dopplering “RAAAAINIEEEER BEEEEEEEEEEER” as it shifts and speeds into the distance with the namesake mountain in the background.

“We wanted to create 30 seconds of entertainment you wouldn’t turn off,” Heckler said. “We wanted to make sure no one zapped us off the screen.”

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