High Life has finger on Darryl's pulse

By Published on .

Advertiser: Miller Brewing Co.
Agency: Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
Ad Review rating: Three and a half stars

Miller Brewing Co., at long last, has found the perfect Miller Lite campaign. Funny, targeted, relevant, dead center on the demographic.

Only one problem.

The perfect Lite campaign--at least, what should be the Lite campaign--is running in support of Miller High Life, a venerable old brand left for dead seven years ago by the same marketing minds that mismanaged Lite into its current sorry state.

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Still, it's progress. The series of 15-second spots from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., shows that somebody at Miller Brewing gets it. Somebody realizes that clever beer advertising doesn't mean beer advertising clever to young men with psychology degrees who dress all in black and personally favor microbrews in a variety of earth tones.

Because, studies show, most beer is consumed by a guy named Darryl.

Darryl struggled in high school. He's a forklift operator/management trainee at a Piggly Wiggly in Chattanooga, Tenn. He loves God, country, Mom, Dad, his stepmom and stepdad, Nascar and the "Jerry Springer Show" outtake video.

Darryl drinks 97% of the beer in the continental U.S. and--whether he is 33, and slowing down, or 18, and just getting into his guzzling prime--he has no interest in the postmodern absurdity of the Miller Lite campaign.

He's not stupid, but he's not sophisticated. And just because he's young and media-immersed and wears an earring doesn't mean he's particularly media-savvy. He doesn't get irony. All he gets is thirsty.

Breweries have known about Darryl for years, of course. That's why beer advertising historically played into his perceived sensibilities: unquestioning patriotism, pride in a hard day's work, nice looking babes squeezed into their clothing like an insurance doctor in a latex glove.

But now the trend is to make Darryl laugh. Bud Light is doing a pretty good job of it, showing the efforts of a bunch of henpecked guys to elude their wives on weekends and sock down brewskies while watching sports on TV. Bud has the lizards. As for Lite, well, it has the calorie-conscious psychology-degree-holder market just about locked up.

But now here's High Life with a lifestyle campaign of witty 15-second spots poking gentle, reverent fun at all the values Darryl holds dear. One shows a guy on his roof, doing a major repair job entirely with duct tape.

"The High Life Man knows that if the pharaohs had duct tape, the Sphinx would still have a nose," the deep-voiced, plain-speaking narrator says. "We salute you, duct tape. You help a man get to Miller Time."

Another spot shows a guy snacking on doughnuts while working on his car: "The powdered sugar on this doughnut," it asserts, "puts a semiprotective barrier between your fingerprint and your nutrition."

Then there's the funniest, which shows a guy struggling to back his boat trailer into the driveway, to the chagrin of a neighbor and the profound disappointment of the narrator: "Time was a man knew how to command his own vehicle. Just how far are we willing to fall? Better reacquaint yourself with the High Life, soldier, before someone tries to take away your Miller Time."

Note how the humor pays tribute to the consumer, not to the creative team. It's not a question of speaking down to Darryl.

It's just a question of respecting who he is.

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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