CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- MillerCoors has agreed to pull a series of ads for Miller Lite following complaints from an Italian-American group that the brewer was using ethnic stereotypes to sell beer.
The commercials, from Lite's agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB, Chicago, tout a new "taste-protector cap" for the brand. Miller is using packaging innovation to highlight the brand's superior-taste claims in much the same way that corporate sibling Coors Light has used similar gimmicks ("cold-activated can") to hammer home its cold-refreshment message.
To make the point, the brewer cast "Sopranos" star Frank Vincent as an apparent mobster offering "protection" to bartenders and convenience-store clerks. Parodying a program that had been on the air for a decade may have seemed safe, but a number of Italian-American organizations took offense and began contacting MillerCoors on May 6 in an attempt to get the ads pulled.
Similar protests had shelved ads from Verizon and Denny's earlier this year, but Lou Rago, president of the Chicago-based Italian American Human Relations Foundation, said it took the groups several weeks to get a hearing. And then they started threatening to organize a boycott of MillerCoors products.
Mr. Rago said he told MillerCoors executives: "Look, if you agree with us you wouldn't have two black actors doing 'Amos and Andy,' if you agree with us you wouldn't have two Polish actors pretending to be stupid, and if you agree with us that you wouldn't have two Hispanics pretending to be gangbangers, then you agree with us that this is wrong," he said. MillerCoors' response, he said, was, "It's Americana." Added Mr. Rago: "I said, 'So was "Amos and Andy."'"
MillerCoors ultimately decided to pull the ads earlier than it had originally planned. "The ads were intended as a lighthearted and humorous satire using pop-culture imagery to highlight the benefits of our new packaging," a MillerCoors spokesman said.