Home On TV & Video The Viral Cerveza Cristal Ads Were Funny – But They’re Also A Cautionary Tale For CTV Advertising Ambitions

The Viral Cerveza Cristal Ads Were Funny – But They’re Also A Cautionary Tale For CTV Advertising Ambitions

Anthony Vargas, Associate Editor at AdExchanger

A hilarious Chilean TV ad campaign from 21 years ago might be a harbinger of CTV advertisements to come.

The purposely tongue-in-cheek campaign, which recently went viral – the internet is a strange thing – was created in 2003 by Chilean broadcaster Canal 13 and OMD Chile for Cerveza Cristal beer.

The ads appear as if they were legit product placements in scenes from Star Wars. Instead of Obi-Wan Kenobi giving Luke Skywalker his father’s lightsaber, he opens a cooler packed with ice-cold brews while Cerveza Cristal’s earworm of a jingle plays. In another ad, Luke unwinds with some Cerveza Cristal after a training session with Yoda.

Watch the spots here.

The ads recently spread on social media, leading to a profusion of memes. Stephen Colbert even jumped on the trend, peppering Cerveza Cristal gags throughout a recent episode of “The Late Show.”

The brazenness of the campaign struck a chord with consumers, who are increasingly seeing immersion-breaking ads overtake their favorite media properties and streaming platforms.

The viral reaction to the campaign illustrates how effective such ads can be – but also why the average consumer dreads intrusive ad formats that insert marketing where it isn’t wanted or expected.

More than two decades after they ran, the ads are a perfect and unintentional cautionary tale for ad tech vendors pushing CTV ad products like virtual product placements and shoppable content overlays.

The future of CTV advertising is starting to look a bit like those Cerveza Cristal spots – and I’d argue that’s not a good thing.

Force-grabbing attention


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The big problem with the Cerveza Cristal ads is that the transitions to the product placements hilariously shatter the audience’s immersion in the scenes.

Because, you know, it’s a little out of character for Emperor Palpatine to Force grab a can of Cerveza Cristal during a confrontation with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Audiences may be laughing now, but the campaign was met with praise when it first aired. It even snagged OMD Chile a Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Lions festival. And it reportedly boosted Canal 13’s viewer retention rate during the commercial breaks to 100%.

Canal 13 was sued by Lucasfilm back in 2004 for messing with its most treasured IP, although the broadcaster later used the same marketing strategy in airings of “Gladiator” and “American Beauty.”

Now, two decades later, Cerveza Cristal is seeing a surge in international brand awareness on the back of the unexpected viral revival of its campaign. Social media users around the globe even lamented that they weren’t able to buy the product in their own countries.

One post featuring the ads attracted more than a quarter million likes on X. Star Wars fans began clamoring for the release of the full “Cerveza Cristal cut” of the trilogy. The meme then spread, with posters across social platforms splicing Cristal beer ads into other beloved IP like Superman, The Lord of the Rings and Pulp Fiction.

This is the type of engagement most product placements in TV and movies can only dream of.

The butt of the joke

But the viral reaction hinges on the sheer chutzpah of these ads.

There’s a begrudging respect mixed in, too – almost as if consumers are giving props to the campaign for so shamelessly leaning into advertising’s most irritating tendencies.

But the people who are sharing the ads and making their own versions are mainly reacting to the audacity of the whole endeavor, because it speaks to a growing desperation among brands to break through the noise and reach customers.

In-your-face campaigns like the Cerveza Cristal ads might succeed in breaking through once (or maybe even twice, decades apart). But marketers shouldn’t bank on these tactics being successful every time. The novelty factor disappears if everyone is doing it.

Simply put, the joke behind the Cerveza Cristal memes isn’t hard to figure out: Consumers are laughing at advertisers – and I’m starting to wonder if advertisers are in on the joke.

Consider shoppable content overlays, a product already on offer by vendors such as Kargo, Qortex (formerly CatapultX) and PadSquad.

During our recent CTV Connect event, I watched a demo for Kargo’s CTV solution, which featured a scene from Top Gun: Maverick in which Tom Cruise gets kitted out in Maverick’s iconic fly-boy gear – crisp white tee, leather bomber jacket, aviator sunglasses.

As Cruise dons each item, an interactive interface shrinks the on-screen real estate devoted to showing the movie and surrounds it with ads for similar products, complete with scannable “Buy Now” QR codes.

To be sure, it’s an attention-grabbing approach. The crowd of CTV advertisers, publishers and tech vendors in attendance seemed impressed with the innovation on display.

But as I took in the demo, all I could hear was the Cerveza Cristal jingle.

And it made me wonder whether such shoppable overlays could become the next viral ad experience that gets passed around the internet as a joke. Or whether the same fate could befall virtual product placements that digitally insert branded items into existing video content or replace generic sound effects in programming with branded audio.

Shoppable content may have its place – on morning talk shows or reality TV or a home improvement show – but it probably isn’t going to resonate with consumers within beloved, classic movies.

There are degrees to integrating ads directly into CTV, of course. Subtly swapping one logo for another in the background of a shot isn’t going to break a viewer’s immersion. But some proposed solutions tread dangerously close to Cerveza Cristal territory.

I’m sure we can all imagine a world in which advertisers take these ideas and run with them well past the point of acceptability, attracting even more ire from consumers and more viral memes parodying the ad industry.

Then again, maybe that outcome isn’t the worst thing in the world from a brand’s POV. Any engagement is good engagement, after all. Cerveza Cristal is certainly having a moment.

It’s been weeks since I first saw the Cerveza Cristal ads – and I still can’t get that jingle out of my head.

For more articles featuring Anthony Vargas, click here.

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