DDB Behind ‘Ethel’s Brew’

Cannes craft beer part of agency's elaborate self-promotion

It was all a sham. What, you say? Ethel's Brew. What, you say? Ethel's Brew—the allegedly Brooklyn-grandma-crafted beer you, if you were among the advertising hordes that descended on Cannes last week, may have seen plastered on posters on the Croisette, or being served at some of the many, many booze-soaked parties during the festival.

The product was publicized last week by someone purporting to be Seth Goldschmidt, the grandson of a raunchy octogenarian by the name "Ethel Goldschmidt," who, according to an elaborate backstory laid out in ads and on a website, created the brew to honor her dead husband's longtime dream to make his own beer—and to have some fun of her own. As it turns out, Seth Goldschmidt is actually advertising agency DDB, the product is a repackaged version of an already existing product from the French craft brewers at Brasserie Duyck, and Ethel is just a figment of imagination.

See, it was all just part of a fabrication meant to promote DDB. "The idea was born around the fact that we said we should use Cannes as a platform not only to celebrate and to have a good time but to prove to the target group who's attending the Cannes festival—the most important people in the advertising [industry]—how the creativity of DDB can build a brand and shape a market," said Amir Kassaei, DDB's worldwide chief creative officer. "Our job is around creating a relevant truth and delivering it in a fresh way so people care about it … [We chose] a beer brand because we wanted to build a lifestyle brand that is matching to the whole environment of Cannes and the way people are behaving themselves during the week."

Because the way ad people behaved at Cannes—with the exception of maybe the judges who were holed up in rooms trudging through enough case study videos to make any reasonable person completely lose their mind—was, it seems, to sell themselves, and get hammered at the beach. (That, instead of how ad people behave themselves the rest of the year, which is to sell themselves, and get hammered at places other than the beach.)

So, did they prove that DDB can build a brand and shape a market? The 15,000 bottles they ordered for the week were gone in four days according to Kassaei. True, they were literally giving them away, but it's not like the lush target market didn't have other options. "We were not the only beer brand at the parties," he said.

The agency spent about $10,000 on OOH, but focused on buzzing up the campaign through digital and social. The effort included such videos as "My Husband Is Dead. Let's Party!," banners featuring Ethel—and her cleavage—with headlines like "I'm a GILF," and developing a fan base through networks like Facebook and Twitter, in part by using images of the star holding a beer with headlines like "You look like you could use a rebound." Overall, the campaign racked up more than 2.9 million impressions, according to a spokesperson for the agency, with 2,765 people seeing content about Ethel that was not driven by ads, and 890,929 people seeing content that was driven by Facebook ads or sponsored stories, 419,227 people seeing posts by Ethel, and 8,264 people clicking on Ethel-related content.

But, you say, they lied. Of course they did. They're in advertising. Still, it's better than many agency attempts at self-promotion. And the whole budget for production, distribution and marketing was only $160,000, said Kassaei. What do you think. Worth it?

The brand's future, meanwhile, has yet to be determined, Kassaei said.