MILLER AND BACKER CORRAL WINNING CONCEPT FOR MGD

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It may be nighttime in Las Vegas, where a riot of neon lights up the strip, but the heat is still oppressive. The temperature is 102. The gamblers are wilting. And the 50-foot-tall glowing cowboy atop the Pioneer Casino is wiping his brow.

Anthropomorphic signage? Oh, it must be a Miller Genuine Draft commercial.

Yep, it is, and another good one, too. The cowboy steps down onto the street and Industrial Light & Magic-ally grabs a giant, frosty bottle of MGD from a picture on the side of a Miller truck. Then, because this is a beer commercial, he picks up a nice, glowing, 50-foot-tall babe from another casino and rides coolly off into the desert amid a now-familiar MGD snowstorm. From the looks of their neon embrace, they are about to exchange inert gases in the world's tallest Vegas one-night stand.

This is better than the come-to-life cactus spot, better than the come-to-life clothesline spot, better even than the three previous miraculously animated signage spots. And J.J. Cale singing "After Midnight" is just the right, cool touch.

But they're all wonderful. Over the past five years, Miller Brewing Co. and Backer Spielvogel Bates, New York, have produced far and away the best TV advertising for beer, saying "Get out of the old. Get into the cold." And evidently beer drinkers are listening. Thanks to cold filtration and its distinctive personality, MGD is the only non-light premium enjoying volume growth. The spots are irresistible to watch, palpably refreshing and virtually alone in consistently reinforcing brand identity.

Alas, because they are beer ads, they are a bit sexually preoccupied.

Except for those that are supremely sexually preoccupied. In about half of the MGD ads, the mystical phenomena don't involve outsize objects taking on human form, but rather depict fantasy encounters between silent, cowboy-booted male wizards who bring sweating young women to the threshold of ecstasy by the simple act of popping open a cold one.

Overheatedness, in other words, is a visual synonym for horniness, and Genuine Draft refreshment is a metaphor for sexual release. Which is not exactly a pioneering concept. Or an enlightened one.

An exact parallel would be the series of Bud Light spots featuring Lady Luck, a magical beer truck driven by two party-hardy guys down the sex-fantasy superhighway. ("What I like about you," the lyric went, as an undulating goddess was showered with a fire hose, "you really know how to dance." It was an image that, as a sensitive, thinking being, enraged me, and that as proud owner of several major glands, arrested my attention each of 100 careful viewings.) Most outrageous, of course, was the implication that enough Bud Light from Lady Luck will help you get lucky with ladies-and several MGD spots lean in the same unfortunate direction.

One, featuring a dry well that mystically yields up a red-spike-heel-shod bimbo with too much makeup and a drunken laugh, is way over the top.

But no matter how obvious and omnipresent and adolescent the sexual imagery, that isn't the heart of the campaign. The heart of the campaign is the notion of instantaneous cold refreshment, as communicated by unfailingly captivating video sorcery. To see the assignation between consenting neon signs is not to be titillated. It is to think, exactly as Miller would wish, "Now that is totally cool."

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