PIRATE TV FINALLY, A BEER CAMPAIGN SO GRUNGY IT MAKES A SOW'S EAR OUT OF A PIG'S EYE

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FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE REsearch is the archrival of risk-taking, behold Pig's Eye. Here's a new print and television campaign that seems to have sprung right out of focus groups, in a funny, demented, grotesque kind of way.

First, a little background. Pig's Eye, as described by creative director Mike Murray at Hunt Murray in Minneapolis, is a reasonably priced, good tasting, locally-brewed pilsner beer. Decorating the can is an image of Pig's Eye himself-a bandannaed, patch-wearing, grizzled old salt inspired, says Murray, by a legendary one-eyed, bootlegging pirate who helped settle St. Paul in the 1800s. The beer, brewed by the Minnesota Brewing Co., did pretty well when it was introduced a few years ago, Murray reports, but since then sales have slumped.

What to do? First off, since winning the account in what Murray terms a somewhat informal, "under the table" review (hotly contested by other Minneapolis shops, he adds), the agency conducted focus groups among key beer-drinking demographics of twentysomething men and women. What they found was that, in addition to digging the Pig's Eye character, younger consumers were also sick of the hype and gimmicks most beer advertising employs. Pig's Eye, for what it's worth, was seen as a sort of no bullshit brand; from this position was born the idea of a campaign pegging it as, "A brutally honest beer." "It's saying it like it is," Murray says of the approach. "We're not going to pretend we're Lowenbrau."

The brutally honest outlook of the brand is reflected in billboards featuring the label next to a series of rather downbeat but nonetheless accurate observations, such as, "The national debut will never be paid off" and "Elvis really is dead." There's even a nihilistic baseball contest promoted in a poster headlined, "Your chances of winning are almost nil."

The TV takes a slightly different tack. In five spots, a crudely animated Pig's Eye talks about everything from fishing to baseball to Eastern mysticism, always against a background of cheesy stock footage (the scenes provide often hilarious counterpoints to the copy) and goofy stock music.

The spots are produced on the cheap (about $10,000 apiece) by Reelworks in Minneapolis. Animator/designer Tom Larson says they're done almost entirely on a Macintosh; the Pig's Eye character, he adds, is a Photoshop composite of both photographic and illustrated elements. The animation style is inspired by the old "Clutch Cargo" cartoons of the '60s, in which the characters moved in stiff, jerky motions, and when they spoke only their lips and eyes moved. The gravelly, "Aye, matey" voice of Pig's Eye is provided by Seth James, a young Reelworks assistant animator.

Murray says the reaction to the campaign so far has not been unexpected, especially when you do something that so obviously intends to get noticed: "There's been little ambivalence. People either love it or they hate it." The agency, Murray adds, will be financially rewarded if they can turn sales around, in addition to getting the go-ahead to roll out a TV campaign that more closely reflects the brutally honest observations of the outdoor and print ads (in one, a wife comes home with a new haircut, prompting hubby's brutally honest assessment of how it looks). And of course, the Pig's Eye character will continue to speak out on timely issues of the day-"weather, sports, politics, anything," says Murray.

TV credits to writer Kristine Larsen and AD Steve Mitchell; print credits to writer Doug Adkins and AD Mike Fetrow.

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