Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Boys Will Be Boys

Speaking (and who isn’t?) of the increasing feminization of our culture, the ensuing male identity crisis and the inevitable backlash—well, these days, in terms of gender roles, it’s hard to keep up. One thing is becoming clear, however: In advertising, metrosexuality now seems, like, sooo 2003.

Of course, “laddie books” like Maxim began celebrating the return of manly men and the ’70s-style female porn stars they crave back in 1997. Still, it gets confusing. A cover line on this month’s Details teases a story about guys who are “Fat and Proud.” Yet these magazines are also loaded with tips on grooming products and Pilates. Take Sly Stallone—his magazine offered “The Dos and Don’ts of Scoring,” but Sly waxes his chest, plucks his eyebrows and has received his share of Botox over various facelifts.

Yet advertising seems to be way ahead on the firm anti-metrosexuality curve. First, the Degree anti-perspirant campaign broke on the Super Bowl, introducing such “inaction figures” as “The Mama’s Boy” and “The Wuss.” Then Levi’s released an inspired Internet film asking, “Life getting too complicated?” It’s the story of a stop-motion-animated male doll who is so overwhelmed by the specialized demands of his metrosexual life (hair foil, yoga, flavored coffees, untucked striped shirts and mandals, designer jeans, low-carb beer) that he takes refuge in his very manly 501s.

Into this climate of “we don’t really know what anyone wants, but let’s make fun of back waxing in the meantime” comes this campaign for Milwaukee’s Best Light beer. Never heard of it? Me neither. Sound terrible? Yeah, kind of. So there’s the first problem: The name itself, “Milwaukee’s Best Light,” seems like a double contradiction in terms. No offense to Milwaukee, but with the fabulous array of imports on the market, never mind the better-known American brands, this beer would appear to be a watered-down version of a joke.

On top of that, though the beer has been around for more than 100 years, it has sort of a pitiful history, in that it’s been on and off the market more times than J. Lo. (Ba-bum!) According to the “manthology” on the new Web site, Milwaukee’s Best was “reintroduced to the market as a low-price entry” in the 1950s, bought by Miller Brewing Co. in 1961, taken off the market in 1975 (in the wake of the success of Miller Lite), then “reintroduced in 1984.” The Light version was “introduced” in 1986 but apparently hasn’t been advertised since 1998-99.

Which leads to the question: If it’s now being advertised as a man’s-man drink, is that because a sophisticated agency like Mother has tapped into the working-man iconography that alienated modern dudes seem to yearn for, or is it the same old sexist stuff from the ’50s and ’60s, repackaged?

The answer would seem to be a bit of both. First of all, the beauty of the campaign is its simplicity: It’s certainly not overthought. Short, coarse and attention-getting, the spots are like a caveman version of the elegiac, philosophical “High Life Man” ads for Miller. But at the same time, they exude a wryly observed humanity, so they aren’t exactly selling us on the Low Life Man, either.

Instead, they celebrate the lives of the working class the same way Roseanne did. There’s an ensemble cast of five flannel-shirted guys who are not actors (they were found at Home Depot, on construction sites and at the racetrack). They are shown hanging out on an enclosed sun porch; watching sports and eating pizza; collectively digging a hole in someone’s lawn (sometimes a man has just got to dig a hole, it seems); having a backyard barbecue; and fixing a car in a driveway.

If that sounds obvious and dull, it could be, except these are 15-second spots that are saved by the can. That would be the 8-foot-tall can of Milwaukee’s Best Light that comes hurtling down on any guy who is exhibiting wussy ways. To be sure, even the production was manly—no girly special effects like CGI. The giant can was built, hand-painted and filled with sand, then lifted by crane over the set. It comes down with a thud and a shake, which gives new meaning to the word earth-shattering. The crushed-by-can visual is so extreme, and surprising, that the knee-jerk reaction is to laugh, regardless of whether the set-up is slightly homophobic or anti-woman.

My favorite spot is the one showing the guy dabbing the grease off his pizza with a napkin. “Men should act like men, and light beer should taste like beer,” the voiceover says, as the can makes the dabber history.

The backyard party scene is also funny. One of the guys shows up with his girlfriend. They are wearing matching shirts. He carries a cake, under plastic. His friends give him an incredulous look. Then he’s martyred by the can.

I guess the campaign tries to address its own internal inconsistency (how is light beer manly, anyway?) by going overboard on the testosterone thing. But the scenes are really well-shot, and the characters and situations seem authentic. The details, like the fact that the guys are working on a ’70s Dodge Charger, are hilarious.

I’m not crazy about the print—shots of women in short shorts taken from the rear. I don’t think anyone will view it as anti-metrosexual, just plain old sexist.

But boy, do these spots succeed in knocking us over the head with the brand name: It’s as clear as the nose on your exfoliated face.



Milwaukee’s

Best Light

Agency

Mother, New York

Creative directors

Linus Karlsson,

Paul Malmstrom

Art director

Rob Baird

Copywriters

Dave Clark, Ann Mason, Allon Tartaka

Producer

Margaux Ravis

Production company

RSA USA

Director

John O’Hagan