Over the past year, the Pabst brewing company, which makes Old Milwaukee, has honed the "soft sell" to a sharp edge, reminiscent of the brothers Bert and Harry Piel. They have been filming spots starring Will Ferrell that only air in select markets. But these spots have an advantage the Piel commercials didn't - internet virality.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It’s possible that when it comes to advertising, the mother of invention is actually beer. And if so, Budweiser is probably the mother of mothers, so to speak, with its innovative mascots like 1987's Bull Terrier, Spuds MacKenzie.
WOMAN: There he is.
WOMAN: What a happenin’ dude!
SINGING: There’s super party animal, his name is Spuds MacKenzie.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: 1995’s frog:
And 1999, this:
MAN: Wassup –
MAN: Ahh-ah –
MAN: Ahh-ha-ha –
MAN: So wassup, B?
MAN: Watchin’ the game, havin’ a Bud.
[END BUD CLIPS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Go back further to say 1984 and companies like Old Milwaukee used more traditional pitches.
[CLIP/OLD MILWAUKEE AD]
ANNOUNCER: Old Milwaukee Light.
SINGING: Tastes as great as their name.
MAN: Now, guys –
MAN: It doesn’t get any better than this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But over the past year, the Pabst Brewing Company, which makes Old Milwaukee, had honed the soft sell to a sharp edge, reminiscent of the brothers Bert and Harry Piel. The ads, which star Will Farrell, air only in tiny markets, and generally feature him doing things in locations clearly recognizable to those local audiences, like fishing in the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa.
WILL FARRELL: When I’m not too busy being a big-time Hollywood phony, I like to come out here to Davenport, sit on my favorite log and crack open a ice cold Old Milwaukee, something I do.
Well, truth be told, I’d never been to Davenport. This is my first time, but it's something I want to do, you know? I mean, it looks like something that’d be fun to do, come out here and sit on the log and – drink Old Milwaukee.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or waking up in pajamas on top of a building in Terre Haute, Indiana.
WILL FARRELL: Ohh, I do not know how I got here. I was over in Illinois. Some guys jumped me, punched me in the face. They kicked me pretty good too. Ow! I woke up here on this building in Terre Haute. I’m not complaining. Some workers must have been here tarring the roof. They left three Old Milwaukee beers. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or during this this year's Super Bowl, making out with a woman on a bus in an ad with no dialogue, that aired only in Sherman, Texas, Ardmore, Oklahoma and Glendive, Montana.
[ASIAN MUSIC/SINGING UP & UNDER]
The Pabst Company has been tight-lipped about the campaign, saying only that Ferrell does the ads for free and that he does pretty much whatever he wants. And what he does is summon up the regional charm of Bert and Harry, with a new twist. Because they air locally, and only locally, these ads are almost guaranteed to go viral. Pabst saves buckets of money by buying cheap regional ad time, instead of national spots and then sits back while the Internet gathers the eyeballs. That Super Bowl ad I mentioned that aired only in three tiny markets has over 3-1/2 million views on YouTube. Remember when newspapers were compelled to print the scheduled air times of the Piels commercials so that people could find them? Well, everything old is new again. Get funny people. Set them free. It turns out, with those two simple ingredients, it’s easier to brew delicious buzz than beer.
WILL FARRELL: Old Milwaukee, it just doesn’t get any better than this. I mean, sure that – the moment my first child was born, that was – that was pretty special, and – and I’ll never forget the time I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. Nope, you know what, I take that back. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Those things are meaningless to me. Pop one open. You’ll see what I mean.
[BEER CAN POPPING SOUND][END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD: That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Jamie York, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary. We had more help from Khrista Rypl, Ravenna Koenig and Alex Hall. And the show was edited – by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineer this week was Rick Kwan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our senior producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News, and our boss. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.