Garfield's Ad Review: Miller spots prove to be the cold duck of beer advertising

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Let's begin with the footnote: The new Miller branding campaign may have the most explicitly racist-or, at least, racial-overtones in beer-marketing history.

In two spots aimed principally at the Latino market, commercials from LatinWorks Marketing, Austin, Texas, make dismissive-verging-on-derisive observations about Anglos. The first is in an interview with the charming, loquacious boxing champion Fernando Vargas, who kids about his barrio-to-gated community odyssey, ending in a neighborhood called Spanish Hills. There, he says, despite the exotic name, he's the only Hispanic resident.

"I guess, you know, white people like the way it sounds," he laughs. "They didn't come and greet me with a basket full of goodies." Because, presumably, they wish he weren't among them.

Vargas is delighted at the twist of fate-and how can you not sympathize?-but a beer commercial is not the place for ethnic taunting. Nor stereotyping. A second spot, about clubbing in Los Angeles, shows a hunky Latino guy ignoring two blonde beauties in favor of the authentic Latinas in a less chichi, more authentic hangout. The condescending implication: White girls are phony.

Maybe for the target audience these slights will seem like revealed truth. So what? This is a conversation in which the Miller Brewing Co. should not be engaged.

The mainstream parts of Miller's new campaigns contain nothing so polarizing. Unfortunately, they contain nothing so attention-getting, either. The Miller High Life spots from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., are more of the witty, tongue-in-cheek paeans to blue-collar life we've seen for three years. And the ambitious new Lite work has some nice touches, too, in a series about embarrassing moments recounted to friends. "Life is best told over a great-tasting Miller Light," the voice-over declares, "at a place called Miller Time."

In one, a guy sees a pickpocket fingering his wallet, chases the thief and threatens him into surrendering it. At home, however, he sees his actual wallet-identical-which he'd left on the coffee table. He'd accidentally committed a mugging. Another weird and wonderful vignette shows a guy thumbing a ride on a truck. The cheerful trucker soon produces a ventriloquist dummy, which makes screeching sounds. The rider jumps out of the moving vehicle.

The stories aren't about beer. But the subsequent storytelling is legitimately about the beer-drinking experience. Miller Time, that is.

Despite, the strength of the concept, much of the work falls just short, featuring anecdotes more irritating than amusing. In one, a visiting fiance mistakenly swallows some Viagra-like pills and has to hide his priapic self, for six hours, in the future in-laws' swimming pool. In another, a female office worker crawls atop the photocopier trying to retrieve a document that had slipped behind it. Naturally a co-worker catches her splayed in an indicting pose. Har-dee-har-har.

Much worse is a "quality" spot, from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, filmed in a Lite brewery.

"Everyone who makes beer wants to give something back," an employee declares, ridiculously, "to take ingredients and do something special." Uh huh. That explains high-speed-bottling footage from the "special" factory venue, about as thirst-provoking as an industrial solvents plant. It's an ad that impeaches itself-which is better than race-baiting, we suppose. Although, until it's pulled, at least the race-baiting will sell beer.

Miller Brewing Co.

Latin Works Marketing Wieden & Kennedy Ogilvy & Mather

Ad Review Rating: 1.5 stars

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