The beer industry, in a panic about losing share to Pinot Grigio and Captain `n' Coke, is displaying the major warning signs of mercantile schizophrenia: disordered thinking, combativeness, self-destructiveness and, chiefly, the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.
The sickness is by no means confined to one brewery, but if an intervention is necessary, Miller Brewing Co. might be a good place to start. And when it comes time to justify the committal order, look no farther than the new TV and online campaign for Miller Lite from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami.
The campaign, "All Rise for Great Taste," was created to pounce on some supposed recent variations in the bitterness and carbonation of Bud Light, which are either the result of routine seasonal tinkering or wholesale formula change, depending on whom you believe. The action all takes place in a courtroom, where the Miller "prosecution" makes its case against Bud. In the spot now airing, the prosecutor (who is fabulous, by the way) questions as an expert witness Public Enemy's Flava Flav. It's hard to understand how a black-separatist rapper suddenly is fronting for a South African beer conglomerate, but there he is.
"Flav, you've tried both the Miller Lite and the changed Bud Light product," says the Miller lawyer. "Which one has more taste?"
"The Miller Lite," says Flava Flav. "Definitely."
Moments later, he and the prosecutor perform his catchphrase in duet: "Yeahhhh, boyyyy!"
OK, the spots are funny, but not nearly as funny as they are irrational. We were all gung-ho when Miller compared its carbohydrate content to the competition's; that was salient and quantifiably true. But taste changes obviously can't be quantified, which is why 10 networks and cable channels wouldn't air the spots, forcing Miller to re-edit for them to exclude any such reference. And, besides ... taste?
Miller Lite, Bud Light and all other American light beers are watered down and virtually tasteless. Comparing them on flavor grounds is like comparing Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer on morality grounds. It's a pointless debate, and to hang your entire advertising message on it is nuts. Compulsive ranting constitutes neither truth nor persuasion. It suggests, if anything, delusional behavior.
"I am Napoleon! I am Jesus! Lite has taste!"
Orderly! Quick, fetch the straitjacket! And, while you're at it, grab me an Amstel!
But that's not all. The Crispin campaign is unabashedly adolescent in style and tone, guy humor with the aesthetic sensibilities of a fraternity prank. No surprise there-it's beer advertising, after all-but this from an industry that has determined those very sensibilities put it at a competitive disadvantage.
"People will tell you that beer is not sophisticated enough, or stylish enough, to compete with wine and spirits," Tom Long, Miller's chief marketing officer, told The Wall Street Journal recently. "Why do they think that? Well, I believe it's because we told them to."
Long says the industry has marketed itself into a perception of lowbrow-ness, and now must market itself right out. So his company, Anheuser-Busch and others-under the auspices of the Beer Institute lobbying group-are contemplating some sort of joint "Beer: It's What's For Dinner" campaign to set people straight.
We're dying to see what that looks like. Meantime, though, we're dying to understand how you can have any pretensions to sophistication while simultaneously doing courtroom skits with a sell-out rapper wearing a giant alarm clock around his neck. Doesn't that seem a little, well, schizophrenic?