John Madden, who died last week at the age of 85, has been rightly acknowledged for his impact on the game of football, on broadcasting and on the enormous gaming franchise that bears his name.
Tossed into the stories on Madden’s life was a brief reference to him as a Miller Lite “pitchman.” He was much more than that. Madden was part of a creative revolution that changed beer advertising. He helped establish the burgeoning light beer category and created a multi-billion-dollar brand along the way.
Celebrities had been doing beer endorsements for decades. The creative was exactly that, a simple endorsement featuring uninspired concepts and celebrities whose delivery might best be described as wooden. We’re in a cycle now where it seems every client in every category wants a celebrity in their work. A good deal of that work could also be described the same way.
It’s part of the age-old conundrum around using celebrities. They’re so tempting because they can elevate an idea and make it sparkle. But the process of creating the right idea and getting the right person for it is extremely difficult. Many celebrities are hired by brands but few actually embody the brands they represent. Sam Elliott for Coors. Ed McMahon for Budweiser. Madden for Miller Lite. I may be leaving a name off but it’s a very short list.