May the fizz be with you: how a $10 Chilean beer ad took on Star Wars

Estimated read time 5 min read

‘Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough”, Obi-Wan Kenobi tells a wide-eyed Luke Skywalker in the 1977 Star Wars film, A New Hope. Obi-Wan moves to fetch the precious item – an ice-cold bottle of Chilean lager, Cerveza Cristal.

Cue enthusiastic brand jingle, and cut!

This, of course, isn’t the original film, but an edited version screened on Chilean television in 2003. It was part of a campaign called “Stop the Zapping”, which camouflaged cunningly placed adverts into the original film to prevent viewers from switching channels during breaks.

In March, the ads went viral after being posted on X (formerly Twitter), shared by Elon Musk, becoming a running gag on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show – and even prompting a remark from Mark Hamill (“Is this now considered Star Wars canon in Chile?” he tweeted last week).

“The objective was to stand out during the ad break. They were long, sometimes there’d be 15 commercials,” said Denise da Fonseca Dreyer, who was in charge of marketing at CCU, the parent company of the Cristal brand. It was her job to look for “something innovative”.

The four parties involved in the project included CCU, the public television channel Canal 13, which acquired the television broadcasting rights for Star Wars, production company Efex! and media agency OMD.

Ignacio González worked as a director in Efex! at the time. The idea came after a series of discussions with the teams involved in bringing Cristal beer to the Star Wars universe.

“I looked for cuts in the film to make the ad break, moments where actors reached for something or looked over at something,” he recalled. “I never touched or intervened with the film itself.”

Given instructions to show the product around the 30-minute mark, González said the Tatooine scene – where Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber – provided the perfect opportunity.

González taped some white fabric to a colleague’s arms to mirror the elder Jedi’s robes, and chucked some ice and beers into a trunk. He shot the ad – a 10-second clip of the hands opening the chest and picking up a bottle of Cristal – in a storage space with a handheld Canon XL1 camera.

“It was filmed with a budget of around $10 in a closet,” he said.

After CCU greenlit the idea, González shot about 15 vignettes for the trilogy – this included, in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke pausing his training to grab a refreshing Cerveza Cristal, conveniently nestled in the tree trunks of the Dagobah swamps. Or the Emperor cracking open a cold one while discussing the allure of the Dark Side to a captured Luke in Return of the Jedi.

“I heard that some Star Wars purists were looking for me, and I don’t think it’s because they liked it,” said González, laughing. “But, I’d say 99% of people were fascinated by it and understood the humour, it was very creative at the time.”

After broadcasting the Star Wars trilogy, the format was repeated in a string of Canal 13’s Sunday night films, including James Bond, American Beauty, Gladiator and Notting Hill.

After sweeping prizes in international advertising awards – including the coveted Cannes Grand Prix – and generating an international buzz, the campaign came to the attention of Lucasfilm. They promptly filed a complaint and called on the Chilean Council for Self-Regulation and Advertising Ethics (CONAR) to ban the advert.

Lucasfilm argued that the viewers are “erroneously led to believe that the film includes a reference to the product”, but that the company “expressly refuses any association with alcoholic beverages” given the films’ popularity with young audiences.

In turn, the defendants’ argument stipulated that Lucasfilm’s complaint underestimates the “intelligence of the Chilean television viewer”.

The Council ruled in favour of Lucasfilm, although it stressed that the advertisers did not infringe copyright law; “viewers will not … think that CCU, as the owner of the Cristal brand, has any type of intellectual rights over George Lucas’ cinematic work”.

But given the scenic continuity of the adverts, the Council found the campaign guilty of “exploiting the goodwill” of Lucasfilm “without authorisation”, prohibiting any further use.

“We didn’t have any bad intentions by appropriating the look and feel of the film, we only want to stand out during the ad break,” said Vladimir Fuentes, who worked on the campaign as account supervisor in the media agency, OMD.

While Lucasfilm was the only studio to make a formal complaint, all parties involved decided to discontinue the scene continuity format across all content.

“Why look for problems with other studios? The truth is the impact was already made, and we decided to stop in good faith,” said Fuentes.

Despite the new viral popularity of the campaign, Cristal, which is only sold in Chile, has not seen an uptick in sales in the past month, said Felipe Saráh Tornero, the brand’s current marketing manager.

Yet given the unprecedented boost of brand awareness in international markets, Saráh Tornero said they may consider launching it abroad, “but, no, we won’t do any more film interventions”.


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