Creative: Critique – High On Life

Miller Celebrates Working-Class Heroes
He is a hairy man with a mustache, a thick neck, a five o’clock shadow and, probably, if we checked his shoes, orthotics.
We catch him alone in the kitchen after a party, making a deal with the deviled eggs. There’s one left on a platter, and he’s staring at it. “Mmm–that last egg’s looking real good,” says the announcer, his voice a mix of thunder and crisp consonants, as if Moses had become a frustrated high-school shop teacher. “You’ve had quite a few though. Maybe you shouldn’t,” he says. “But if you go a little lighter here” (we see the bottle, with the great-looking label, bringing back the bold iconography of ’50s Miller beerdom), maybe you will have room for just one more.”
The egg man goes for it. He furtively takes the hideous hardboiled thing with the olive on top, fumbles, then pops it in his mouth. “See there. When you have the High Life, you can live it both ways.”
This new campaign for Miller High Life from Wieden & Kennedy, directed by Errol Morris (of The Thin Blue Line fame), is so original and so charming, it’s as if Miller has finally found its way out of the image desert. There isn’t a beer ad cliche in sight. This work reaches way beyond male bonding, bikinis and sports, as well as their second-generation replacements: anxious men, cross-dressers and talking frogs. Say goodbye Mr. Pecs; Miller gives us the new burly man.
Indeed, this spot digs down to something simpler and deeper: the touchstones of 1950s and early ’60s working-class suburbia. And it manages to honor those resonant codes in an ironic, dreamy way.
In promoting the “High Life Man,” the ad touches the contemporary American hunger for real heroes, for the basics of post-World War II blue-collar, movin’-on-up kind of living. This is the proud, hopeful, solid stuff that commercials for Miller High Life (the “champagne of bottled beer”) once sold us straight. Miller isn’t alone.
In the last few months, the celebration of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run hit similar cultural chords.
Artfully cropped and shot, these High Life still lifes come to life. You’d think within the limitation of the 15- and 30-second formats, there wouldn’t be a lot to see. But there’s so much throb and humanity in the odd angles, the close-ups, the off-speed moments that, like the egg eater, we can gorge our hearts out.
Combined with the inspired writing, delivered in that Charlton Heston-like authoritative voiceover, the visual details make for a sentimental, anthropo-beero journey, a new little belief system that we can examine like so many Margaret Meads. We’re all invited in–hetero, homo, male, female, young, old, redneck, hipster, micro or imported beer drinker.
Another nice thing: These ads don’t encourage hostility among men or between the sexes. Mostly, they are nostalgic appreciations of objects past.
For instance, take the spot “Duct Tape,” which I like to call “Second Refrigerator.” (I know my parents loved having such a fridge, which they got for free, in the garage in case of unusual entertainment needs.)
Here, we see a guy with a crew cut duct-taping a handle onto the appliance door. It’s a beaut–a big, round, silverish big-ticket item. “Even when a man has his tool box handy, isn’t it nice to have this all-purpose helper?” the announcer asks. “The High Life man knows that if the pharaohs had duct tape, the Sphinx would still have a nose.”
The guy gets the door open, not exactly smoothly–it catches a little–and we’re taken inside the box. On the top shelf, there’s Arm and Hammer baking soda, a few bottles of Miller High Life and a jar of pickles, shaking a bit from having been bumped.
Of course, the Sphinx nose isn’t the only inspired joke. There’s also a beautifully set up bit that communicates Morris’ affinity for reenacted docu-moments: A man stands in his driveway, watching his neighbor awkwardly try to park his boat. Welcome to parking, the dark side.
It’s a New American Gothic: Our Gen-X hero, in porkpie hat and cargo pants, stands still and holds a half-drunk Miller High Life bottle in one hand and a rake in the other. We never get to see his face (or the driver of the boat), but we do get a tight close-up of our rake holder’s mouth as he utters the word “pitiful.”
“Better reacquaint yourself with the High Life, soldier, before someone tries to take away your Miller Time,” the announcer tells the wayward parker.
I also loved the spot with the doughnut, (a close-up of grease on a mechanic’s hand, as he flicks around a powdered doughnut.) The announcer tells us not to worry if a man can’t wash his hands properly, since the grease provides a “semiprotective barrier between your fingerprint and your nutrition.” The writer here has a dead-on ear for language (“tuck into the golden plate special.”)
These spots seem simple, static, almost vacant and uncomplicated, but like the redesigned High Life packaging and label, they are both larger than life and magical.
In fact, with spots as good as these fellas, a person has to wonder why the powers that be in the Millerarchy don’t run them more often.