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Splice Saber: How a Cheap Chilean Beer Was Edited Into the ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy

Coincidences are funny things. For example, a Chilean beer called Cerveza Cristal and a U.S. movie called “Star Wars” both debuted in 1977. Both would become cultural touchstones, but their paths didn’t cross until 2003 when Obi Wan-Kenobi reached into a chest full of ice and grabbed a cold one.

In 2003, Canal 13 had good news and bad news. The good news was that the Chilean TV station was broadcasting the “Star Wars” trilogy. The bad news was that executives did not want any zapping (an even more casual term for channel surfing) during commercial breaks, but they did most certainly want to generate ad revenue during the broadcasts.

Hold My Beer

In collaboration with the makers of one of Chile’s most popular beer brands, Compañía de Cervecerías Unidas (CCU), a creative workaround was reached. Instead of producing a special “Star Wars” inspired television commercial or reimagining scenes from the movie using actors and a fresh script that cleverly worked their product into the plot, the advertising and marketing minds behind Cerveza Cristal simply spliced a short and simple piece of product footage into actual movie footage. Demarcated by an almost imperceptible black frame around the non-original footage, the ad then quickly cut back to original movie footage. It took little more than cojones grandes and a male hand model able to hold a refreshing pilsner without covering up the label with his thumb.

Production values were low — GQ magazine in Spanish called the campaign “advertising vandalism” — no actors were used, and no lines were spoken. However, after 21 years, many awards, and one kinda lawsuit, this series of television commercials has gone viral. In March 2024, an X (Twitter) user unearthed the ads and posted about them. Memes proliferated. Press around the world piled on. Stephen Colbert referenced the shenanigans on his show. Hilarity ensued.

Prequel (im) Perfecto

The prequel to the Cerveza Cristal/“Star Wars” memaplaoosa is slightly more complicated.

In 2003, five installments of the scene splicing “Star Wars” ads were produced by creatives at Chilean advertising companies OMD Chile and Efex. They were given names like “A New Hope” and “The Force Is with Cristal Beer.” In one version, real film footage of Yoda schooling Luke Skywalker during a convivial piggyback ride is seen before spliced-in footage appears to show Luke’s hand reaching for a can of Cerveza Cristal (inexplicably wedged into a tree) before cutting back to real film footage of Luke contemplating The Force or some such. In another version, Palpatine delivers a scathing monologue about Darth Vader — which is somehow loving, envious, and disdainful at the same time — then plops into his dastardly throne before a spliced-in hand appears to conjure a can of Cerveza Cristal from the very bowels of the Earth before the movie resumes.

Around 2003 in Chile, when the original trilogy of “Star Wars” began airing on television there, they did this funny thing to avoid cutting to commercial breaks. They stitched the commercials into the films themselves. Here is one of them, with the English dub added in. pic.twitter.com/wC7N2vPNvv

— Windy 🛸 (@heyitswindy) March 2, 2024

And so on.

Felipe Wielandt, head of marketing for Cerveza Cristal when the campaign was created, has been quoted as calling the campaign “surprising” and “crazy.” Lucas Films, creators of “Star Wars,” agreed. But instead of dispatching legions of lawyers to send out strident cease-and-desist letters before suing the beer company for massive damages, lawyers for George Lucas’s production company were presented with limited legal options to stop CCU from monkeying around with their movies.

Battle of the Brands

Since 1970, Chile has been a signatory to the Berne Convention, a global copyright treaty that has been signed by 181 countries. According to U.S. copyright lawyer Katherine Daniels, the Berne Convention “seeks to standardize the copyright laws of all member nations.” However, Lucas Films found that its only recourse in Chile was to grouse to a Chilean organization called the Council of Self-Regulation and Advertising Ethics (CONAR).

The “self-regulation” part of the organization’s name could not have been reassuring, but Lucas Films filed a complaint against CCU in September of 2004 anyway. In November of that year, CONAR issued its “ethical opinion,” which amounted to a statement that the Cerveza Cristal “Star Wars” campaign could not be aired again.

But the starship had already left the hangar. Not only had the Cerveza Cristal ads been broadcast, they were applauded, winning regional and international advertising awards, including the Grand Prix top prize at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival — the first time a Chilean campaign was so honored. Ad Age magazine called the campaign “a product placement coup.”

And Cerveza Cristal didn’t stop at “Star Wars.” The same splice-it-in technique was used in Canal 13 broadcasts of “American Beauty,” “Gladiator,” and “Notting Hill” in early 2004. Attempts to find Cerveza Cristal footage from those films failed (and I’m not alone in this), which says a lot about the general level of devotion and tech savviness of “Star Wars” fans versus fans of creepy May/December relationships, Russel Crowe historical action flicks, and rom-coms featuring British accents.

This nod to the newly infamous Cerveza Cristal “Star Wars” campaign was reportedly done with the permission of CCU, which is ironic since CCU seemingly did not solicit permission from Lucas Films back in 2003.

There might have been even more to this spliced-in suds series within additional movies, except, according to CCU’s Wielandt, the tactic lost its surprise factor (and, therefore, its value in the battle against zapping) and was abandoned.

Force or Farce?

In March 2024, as the Cerveza Cristal “Star Wars” campaign’s virality was reaching fever pitch, a broadcast of an episode of a Chilean series called “El Día Menos Pensado” (“The Least Expected Day”) aired including a scene that transitioned to a commercial break with footage of a hand reaching into a pantry full of cans of Cerveza Cristal.

This nod to the newly infamous Cerveza Cristal “Star Wars” campaign was reportedly done with the permission of CCU, which is ironic since CCU seemingly did not solicit permission from Lucas Films back in 2003. Copyright lawyer Katherine Daniels is quick to make it clear that any ad in the U.S. that involved scene splicing à la Cerveza Cristal/“Star Wars” would only be possible with prior consent from the movie’s maker.

Critics of the Cerveza Cristal homage within the “El Día Menos Pensado” episode have noted the beer did not appear to be cold, but no official legal complaints have been filed for “self-regulation.”

The Value of Viral

Pop culture has always informed advertising. And, yes, going viral is a good thing (or at least a cool thing). However, it’s doubtful that Cerveza Cristal sales have seen any kind of meaningful bump from all of this.

The brand — think of it as the Chilean equivalent of Budweiser but still domestically owned — already holds the lion’s share of the Chilean beer market and, though sold in other countries, is not likely to be enjoying a meme sales boost in the places where the virality is strongest. Many memes are in English, for example, and people I talked to in Chile (overwhelmingly the brand’s main market) were only vaguely aware of the renewed internet interest in the campaign or, for that matter, the original 2003 Canal 13 campaign.

On Cerveza Cristal’s X (Twitter) account, which has just north of 32,000 followers, the company has gamely shared some of the memes inspired by its 21-year-old “Star Wars” campaign and gotten half-heartedly involved in a contest meant to attract the attention of actor Mark Hamill, who portrayed the original Luke Skywalker.

Oye y si entre tod@s le mandamos unas Cristal a Luke?🍻
Usemos la fuerza para que @MarkHamill acepte la invitación y nos ponemos con 10 premios de 1 año de Cristal entre quienes nos ayuden, si Mark reacciona duplicaremos el premio a 20 personas y los que tengan más likes ganan👇

— Cerveza Cristal (@CervezaCristal) March 7, 2024

If there’s a tangible takeaway for Cerveza Cristal in all of this, it may be a bit of free focus grouping. While the garage-project quality and sheer audacity of the original campaign is the most celebrated part of its new viral life, internet users also seem to love the jingle that was used as a sting at the end of each of the ads.

The brand’s driving, bombastic, testosterone-laden jingle is short and aggressive as a male voice sings/shouts the words Cerveza Cristal!!!!!!!! in a way that is both a celebration and a dare (warning: this little ditty is designed to be an ear worm and you will find yourself humming it in public for days).

Some of the campaign-inspired memes amount to nothing more than a still from a familiar movie with the words CERVEZA CRISTAAAAAAAL!!!!! layered over it. Perhaps CCU should bring back that 2003 “Star Wars” sting. At least it owns the rights to that.

The article Splice Saber: How a Cheap Chilean Beer Was Edited Into the ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy appeared first on VinePair.

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