Ad of the Day: Old Milwaukee

Why is Will Ferrell doing low-budget beer commercials airing only in the Quad Cities?

Hello, Davenport, Iowa! Will Ferrell wants you to drink Old Milwaukee beer, in classic American fashion.

In a somewhat peculiar move, the comedian has surfaced to endorse the brew in three videos set in Davenport over the past month—spots that are reportedly airing only locally in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. In the latest clip—a grainy, apparently viewer-recorded version of which hit YouTube last week—Ferrell begins to riff in his trademark yell on the virtues of Old Milwaukee, inspired by the spelling of Davenport's name. "D, for drinkability!" he cheers. "A, amber. Color of the beer!" Things start to fall apart around "E," and devolve into a tantrum around "P," as Ferrell throws in the towel. "I don't know how to do this!" he screams. The video then cuts off abruptly.

The two earlier skits show Ferrell fishing—by line and by hand—in the Mississippi River. Like the new spot, the earlier ones reached YouTube only as grainy recordings evidently made off a TV. But it's clear that they're all low-budget productions.

So, why is Will Ferrell doing local ads for Old Milwaukee? The company says he just loves the brand. "Will approached Old Milwaukee because he's a big fan of the beer and thought it would be fun to make the commercials, and we couldn't be more excited that he did," Bryan Crowley, the CMO of Old Milwaukee parent Pabst Brewing, told the Quad-City Times (which was just as surprised by Ferrell's move as anyone). But is Crowley being serious? Is Ferrell? Doesn't it seem possible—perhaps even likely—that this is all just an elaborate joke?

A few things suggest it might be indeed. First, an MSNBC report from 2010 indicated that Ferrell's Funny or Die site was planning to produce sketches incorporating Pabst products—as part of an effort by the brewer's new owners, the Metropoulos brothers, to revitalize a host of neglected labels. Nothing has yet appeared on Funny or Die, but these three spots could easily be seen as branded entertainment. Also curious is Old Milwaukee's recent refresh of its website and Facebook presence, which puts other grainy Old Milwaukee beer ads front and center—classic spots from the brand's history, including the Swedish Bikini Team (hailed on the Facebook page as "The Best Beer Commercial Ever"). Are the Ferrell spots supposed to hark back ironically to the brand's commercial heyday?

Adweek contacted reps for Pabst and Ferrell looking for some answers, so far without any response. If the goal was to make these spots go viral, they've had only limited success—114,000 views on the most-watched clip, which isn't exactly gangbusters these days. Still, conspiracy theories aside, the spots are amusing on their own and nicely dust off a brand that seems to have largely fallen out of the popular consciousness.

UPDATE: Daren Metropoulos, co-owner of Pabst Brewing Company, tells Adweek: "Will Ferrell approached Old Milwaukee about creating ads because he's a big fan of the brand. He was interested in developing something unique and we gave him the freedom to pursue his creative vision and produce these spots with a local vibe."

UPDATE: The plot thickens. Ferrell filmed some ads in Terre Haute, Ind., as well. They reportedly began airing this week. All four are posted below. Crowley gave the same exact quote to a paper there as he gave to the Quad Cities paper: "Will approached Old Milwaukee because he's a big fan of the beer and thought it would be fun to make the commercials, and we couldn't be more excited that he did." At the very least, the marketer is being cryptic about the nature and scale of this effort. Anyway, Toledo is obviously next.

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