Beer Advertising 101: Don't Eat the Yellow Snow

Old Rejected Spec Ad for Miller Lite Surfaces on YouTube

By Published on .

It used to be so simple: If an agency pitched an idea a client didn't like, the idea went away forever. Now, however, the rejected ideas that clients thought they had vanquished forever aren't so easy to kill.

Just ask Miller Lite.

Back in 2000, it rejected a ludicrous idea from Ogilvy & Mather's New York office. The concept, as shown in a spec film, showed a wretch-inducing visual of two men chowing down on yellow snow, which is later revealed to have originated from a leaking Lite keg.

Urine jokes have been verboten in the beer category ever since a widely syndicated 1973 Mike Royko column famously observed that mass-brewed American beer "all tastes as if the secret brewing process involved running it through a horse." And the topic became even more radioactive during the late 1980s, when a false whispering campaign about Corona brewery workers relieving themselves in brewery vats put a major dent in that brand's sales for years.

So, given that, shooting down "Yellow Snow" probably wasn't a tough call for Miller Lite executives at the time. (Even though those same executives did allow Ogilvy to create the notorious mud wrestling "Cat Fight" ad that is widely regarded as beer-advertising's nadir.) So you could imagine their surprise when, this week, the spec film they killed off nearly a decade ago began getting attention on YouTube and other online video sites over the past week. And, all told, "Yellow Snow" has been viewed more than 175,000 times online since it first seeped onto online video sites in late 2007.

So how'd that happen? It seems the spec ad's director, Mike Bigelow, posted it as a work sample on his production company's website and that it found its way onto YouTube et al from there.

"The creative was by a couple of agency guys at Ogilvy NY," Bigelow recalled over e-mail. "They had hoped to sell Miller on it but the brewery was skittish."

But don't blame Mr. Bigelow: It has long been common practice for directors to include spec films on their reels, and even to post them on their typically obscure websites. But the advent of YouTube and other video-sharing sites means films that were previously designed to be shown only to prospective clients and employers now can reach large audiences with minimal promotion.

Consider a spec film called "Living in the Light" that the production company Bandito Brothers made for BMW's M3. The two-minute film, which features the car flexing its performance muscles, and the effect those muscles have on a beautiful woman in the passenger seat has drawn more than 623,000 views on YouTube, and wide notice -- and universal acclaim -- on countless BMW fan sites and blogs.

Created without any involvement from BMW, Bandito Brothers director Mike McCoy basically conceived the video as a love letter to his car. "He basically wanted to make those posters of cars and women that kids have on their bedroom walls, but for grownups," said a spokesman.

In addition to the YouTube views, the video has increased traffic to the production company's website by 2000% and perhaps even generated a lead with BMW. (The spokesman said the company got calls from several BMW executives thrilled by the film.) So, that's all well and good.

But if a client shot down a film, would Bandito hesitate to post it? "There are a lot of things that come into play," said the spokesman. "But there really isn't a sense that you're not allowed to put it out there."

Most Popular