Miller Lite is abandoning sex and footy for its latest ad. Fronted by Burt Reynolds, it aims to appeal to man’s more civilised side – and raise the bar in beer advertising
Though most pubs boast their share of a female clientele who drink pints, belch, and wipe their mouths with the back of their hand, beer drinking, at least in the minds of the brewers, remains a male pastime. And by male they mean men who, whatever their age in years, are locked permanently into overheated pubescence.
To judge from their advertising, the beer companies see their target market composed of men whose universe comprises sex, football and fast cars. Into this uncomplicated existence there fits a taste for lager. Though the rules governing the promotion of alcohol expressly forbid the suggestion that drink enhances performance of any kind, the implication remains clear/ lager is for lads of all ages. It’s the same on both side of the Atlantic; in the US as in the UK, the brewer’s message is, “If you like big-breasted women, beer is the stimulant for you”.
It’s a simple proposition that has served the drinks companies well, which makes a new campaign in the US on behalf of Miller Brewing all the more remarkable. In a bold break with tradition the company is not merely dropping the big blondes, it is redefining the notion of masculinity. Its big new idea may be summed up as “manliness”, a condition that implies moral strength, uprightness, restraint, dignity, courage, and much else far removed from mooning out of the back of an ambulance as a coda to a good night out.
This new campaign is all the remarkable since it comes from a company whose previous idea of promotion was “Catfight”, a television spot featuring two voluptuous women who tear off each other’s clothes and wrestle in wet cement. Putting all that behind it, Miller’s latest commercial takes the form of group discussion featuring men who “have defined in their own way what manhood is about”. They include an American footballer, a wrestler, and Aron Ralston, the rock climber who cut off part of his arm after being pinned under a boulder.
They are assembled around a table, sitting before beer bottles and solemnly debating, under the chairmanship of actor Burt Reynolds, “Man Laws”, the rules by which real grown-up men govern themselves. True, the precepts under discussion lack Aristotelian gravitas, but these are early days and you have to begin somewhere. Thus the topics include: when toasting should one clink tops or bottoms? (answer/ bottoms); is the high-five played out? (yes); how long should a man wait before dating his buddy’s ex-girlfriend? (six months).
Explaining the new strategy, Miller Brewing vice-president for marketing Erv Frederick says the company wants to move beyond the stereotype of men as sophomoric or as the lowest common denominator. “We are trying to position it as a smarter, more intelligent light beer”.
The campaign also includes a website, manlaws.com, which so far comprises a single, sonorous, and, let’s be frank, barmy statement: “Between all men there exists an unwritten set of rules. They govern what is in good taste and what is not. Until recently these laws were passed around the world by word of mouth, handed down from generation to generation, and most men seemed to know right from wrong. But in the past few decades more and more men have been breaking these sacred rules, perhaps without even knowing it. And so it has become necessary to make this information public for all men to see.”
Miller Lite must be strong stuff, strong enough to create in the mind a vision of a prelapsarian world in which, from the Malay Straits to the foothills of the Hindukush, from the wastes of Siberia to the rain forests of Patagonia, from man to man, from generation to generation, the sacred word was passed, and no one toasted by clinking the top of a vessel or prematurely dated a buddy’s ex.
Implicit in Miller’s thinking is that the sacred rules of manhood are immutable. In truth, however, they change and adapt to circumstance. If Burt Reynolds were to set up his Man Laws discussion in this country, the topics would include such matters as whether a diamond earring goes better with a silk shirt or another fashioned in Egyptian cotton; whether one’s highlights should be dyed honey blond or a bolder shade; whether moisturiser should be applied before or after anti-aging balm. And, when man’s estate is reached through fatherhood, is terry towelling preferable to disposable nappies, and which is applied first, the talc or the zinc ointment?
After drinking Miller Lite, however, one Man Law is timeless and unchanging: always raise the lavatory seat before taking aim.â¢