U.S. advertising was once brilliant. In my mind the two greatest commercials of all time were Coke’s “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” featuring young people from all over the world on a hilltop in Italy promoting love, harmony and Coke, and the ads for the launch of Miller Lite beer. The ads respectively aired in 1971 and 1975 and were created by the once legendary agency McCann Erickson, which in its day excelled at making people feel good about their clients’ products. Once upon a time that was the singular goal of all U.S. companies.
The origin of Coke’s hilltop commercial was a London bound flight diverted to Ireland because of fog and angry passengers were forced to remain in the airport until visibility improved. Bill Backer, who oversaw Coke’s account for McCann, was on that flight and noticed that passenger anger subsided after sharing snacks in the airport café and drinking bottles of Coke. Backer’s original idea was for an ad about buying everyone in the world a Coke, but Coke’s music director Billy Davis reacted negatively to the idea.
“Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke,” Davis said.
Backer responded, “What would you do?”
“I’d buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love,” Davis said.
Backer heeded the insight, which resulted in the accompanying commercial. It aired in every English-speaking country.
The genius of the Miller Lite ads was the company’s misspelling of light and its slogan, “Everything You Always Wanted in a Beer. And Less.” The line was coined by Matt Snell, a retired New York Jets running back responsible for the team’s still only Super Bowl victory, who McCann Erickson hired to pitch Miller’s new beer. (Hiring active athletes was forbidden in those days.) Snell made his comment on the third day of shooting a Miller Lite commercial at a rented Manhattan bar. The McCann Erickson folks had the smarts to run with it.
The Coke and Miller Lite ads ran when America was a very divided country because of the Vietnam War. In 1971, some 25,000 young protestors derailed the functioning of the federal government by disrupting traffic throughout Washington, making it difficult for civil servants to get to work. Known as the Mayday action, more than 7,000 people were arrested, still the largest mass arrests in U.S. history. The Vietnam war ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon, a moment of national trauma.
The story of Coke’s hilltop ad is featured on the company’s website and includes a video of an interview with Bill Backer, who comes across as genuine, likeable, and humble. Asked if he was proud of the hilltop ad, Backer immediately clarified, “I didn’t do it all by myself.” Backer talks about how companies could be “a social catalyst to bring people together” and that Coke’s president was inundated with letters complimenting the company for its hilltop ad.
America is again very divided, but increasingly U.S. corporations want to take sides and fan the flames of division, invariably adopting positions that will curry them favor and good press with the entrenched media.
Coke and with Miller Lite are among the corporate advocates.
Coke’s British CEO James Quincey in 2021 publicly opposed proposed changes to Georgia’s voting laws, which included a new photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail. Republican supporters said the law was needed to restore confidence in Georgia’s elections. Democrats said it would restrict voting access, especially for voters of color. Quincey’s position resulted in Republicans calling for a boycott of Coke products, but one never took hold.
Miller Lite last month launched a program called “Bad $#!T to Good $#!T,” where it decried the company’s previous ads and those of competitors it deemed sexist and turned copies of them into fertilizer to grow hops for women brewers. The commercial promoting the program knocks ads that were reflective of the mores of their day and resulted in considerably more brand awareness than Miller Lite’s current marketing folks can generate. I thought the brand was discontinued, and only discovered it was still around researching this commentary.
For the record, some of the sexist ads from the golden age of advertising were created by women, including the one below from National Airlines, considered by many as the most sexist American ad ever created. It was the work of Mary Wells, the founding president of Wells, Rich, Greene, an advertising agency highly regarded for its creative work.
Although Miller Lite pioneered the light beer market, Budweiser historically was respected as the savvier marketer and distributor, and its light beer not only bested Miller’s, until recently it was the number one selling beer in America. But Alissa Gordon Heinerscheid, who in July 2022 was named Bud Light’s vice president for marketing, has little regard for her predecessors and their strategies and publicly declared the Bud Light brand was in danger of extinction unless it abandoned its “out of touch” frat party marketing and attracted a younger, more diverse, and inclusive image.
“I’m a businesswoman, I had a really clear job to do when I took over Bud Light, and it was ‘This brand is in decline, it’s been in a decline for a really long time, and if we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand there will be no future for Bud Light,‘” Heinerscheid said on a podcast I’ve linked to below.
Bud Light’s big idea was to anoint Dylan Mulvaney, a TikTok male sensation who owes his celebrity to declaring himself a woman just over a year ago, a brand ambassador. Bud Light issued Mulvaney a special edition beer can with her image “to celebrate 365 days of girlhood.” When I first read about the story I thought it was a joke, and I clearly wasn’t alone.
It’s not clear that Heinerscheid was directly responsible for reaching out to Mulvaney. Big corporations typically employ millennials, often named Jessica, Ashley, Michael, or Christopher, to manage their social media. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Mulvaney ambassadorship was the brainchild of a social media underling. Regardless, Heinerscheid bears responsibility, particularly as choosing Mulvaney pushes the envelope of her “inclusivity” mandate.
Mulvaney’s Bud Light ambassadorship sparked considerable controversy, with calls for a boycott and reports of plummeting Bud Light sales. The entrenched media positions the outrage as another example of “conservative” and “right wing” transphobia, which supports its bias and narrative. I’m confident the outrage is a backlash against America’s increasingly emboldened elite’s dictatorial efforts to impose their values and ideals on Americans who they regard as “deplorables.”
Mulvaney had previously expressed no interest or love for beer. If she had, I doubt there would have been much outrage. When Mulvaney disclosed that Bud Light had sent a commemorative can with her image, she noted that she had never heard of “March Madness,” the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament when I imagine Bud Light experiences a surge in sales. My sense watching Mulvaney’s video was that even she couldn’t believe Bud Light chose her to promote its brand.
Heinerscheid’s privileged background has also served as a lightning rod. According to Jeffrey Tucker of the Brownstone Institute, Heinerscheid attended the elite Groton boarding school ($65K a year) and scored a coveted internship at General Foods. Newsweek reported that Heinerscheid worked at Johnson & Johnson as associate brand manager of Listerine. Between 2018 and 2020, she was the senior director of Bud Light’s Communications team. (The Listerine stint is comical given that Heinerscheid’s Bud Light stewardship has left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.)
Watching a now infamous podcast Heinerscheid did with Kristin Twiford, who I imagine never dreamed she’d get the traffic she’s no doubt recently experienced, I was taken aback by Heinerscheid referring to beer as a “vice industry” and trashing Bud Light as a brand in danger of extinction because of the misguided efforts of her predecessors. Heinerscheid doesn’t come across as a beer drinker or someone who would order a Bud Light if she did.
For all Heinerscheid’s talk of inclusivity, choosing Mulvaney was exploitive. Mulvaney seems very vulnerable, and not someone who is emotionally prepared to handle the avalanche or hostility being leveled at her. According to a 2020 NIH study, 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide, with suicides highest among transgender youth. Responsible companies wouldn’t seek to exploit Mulvaney as part of their virtue signaling marketing efforts.
There’s been considerable speculation that Bud Light’s brand is badly damaged. Many outlets have noted that the stock price of Anheuser-Busch, which owns the Bud Light brand, declined 5% in the immediate aftermath. It recovered a tad today and still trades near its 52-week high. My guess is that in a few days the outrage will be over, and there will be another issue engendering social media outrage.
That’s unfortunate. Count me among those who are fed up with the Biden Administration and its entrenched media enablers dictating how to think, how to live, and what sort of vehicle I must drive. I’d welcome a modern-day enactment of the Boston Tea Party but instead of dumping chests of tea in the Boston Harbor every can and case of Bud Light is publicly destroyed at festive ceremonies across the country.
America’s forbearers would be proud.