Not that Nike advertising is bad. It's brilliant in the way it creates a mood, an attitude for what it sells. Nike talks very little about the product-sometimes it's hard to figure what's being advertised.
The problem is that very few other advertisers know how to do this kind of non-product advertising. And yet they keep on trying, with attempts at humor, at mood-setting, at sheer craziness, to the point where much of today's advertising seems determined to avoid telling us why we should buy their product.
In the most egregious example of this trend, Miller Brewing Co. has revived, in the most horrifying way imaginable, the old "Miller Time" ad theme.
The original "Miller Time" commercials are among the truly great campaigns of all time. They define who the Miller High Life drinker is-"If you've got the time, we've got the beer"-by focusing on the beer itself and how it contributes to the enjoyment of the moment. The Miller drinker is a hard-working but relaxed kind of guy who appreciates the unhurried taste of a good brew.
But as I wrote last year: "Isn't it remarkable how the big beer companies are wasting much of their ad budgets? I thought Budweiser was having a tough time until I saw how the new Miller beer is floundering. It's slogan, `Reach for what's out there,' was incomprehensible, and now Miller is trying to establish the brand with what I suppose passes for humor.
"Miller's got a great theme in its own archives. When Bill Backer was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame this spring, he played a reel of commercials he was responsible for-and proud of." Among them was a spot for Miller High Life with the aforementioned memorable tagline. "How can you improve on that?" I asked.
Miller Lite's new agency, Fallon McElligott, has invoked the Miller Time heritage-which is nothing less than sacrilege-but has come up with ads so horrendously bad that I'm ready to revoke their 1996 Ad Agency of the Year award.
And, to make it worse, the ads blame a slick-talking adman for the atrocity. Each of the four 60-second spots are introduced by Dick, an "advertising superstar," as the Miller press release says, "who has created some fun, entertaining and unexpected ideas that beer-loving people like."
Among the unexpected ideas are "hair from furry mice stuck to a beautiful woman's armpits," according to The Wall Street Journal.
"In another, a group of cowhands finish their Miller Lites, tearfully croon `Adios, Amigos,' and depart in a single-file line-into the men's room," the Journal reports.
That sure does sound like a barrel of laughs, doesn't it? And furry armpits always make me thirsty.
What is going on in the collective head of the advertising business these days? Carnival Cruises has dropped Kathie Lee Gifford for a bunch of animated talking fishes; Budweiser has its frogs and ants (soon to be replaced by Larry the Lizard, I read in USA Today); and Nissan employs a crazy-eyed old man. What does any of this have to do with selling the attributes of their products or services?
We can't blame this sorry condition solely on ad agencies, of course. Clients must take final responsibility for their ads. What's happening, I'm afraid, is that the lunatics have taken over the asylum, and we're all being held captive.