First Annual State of the Sleaze Report

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   “There’s no doubt that today’s consumer is looking for more in an ad than girls in bikinis.”

Patrick Stokes, president, Anheuser-Busch, 1992

HOW TRUE. Ten years later, consumers are getting more than a quick flash of cleavage.

As the 2003 beer commercial season froths into Super Bowl action, viewers are being treated to increasingly candid references to penis size and multiple sex partners.

Mr. Stokes’ own company, for example, features a 30-second quickie in which a guy imagines his girlfriend inviting him into a menage a trois with her roommate. “Think fresh,” Budweiser encourages, and they ain’t talking about no “born-on” date.

Beer companies have always employed the talents of buxom ladies to sell their product, of course. Beer companies, whose calendars could always be counted on to show a little skin, sponsored beauty pageants in the ’50s. And whose dorm wall wasn’t covered with Spuds McKenzie and his well-proportioned handlers?

But the ads were always wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Even the old Swedish Bikini Team was a farce.

This year, though, beer makers are continuing a full-frontal move from T&A to S-E-X.

Not that I’m opposed to the trend. Beer commercials are consistently the mos entertaining thing on the tube, a fact reflected in a recent study of TiVo and Replay TV users. Though the technology easily allows one to skip any commercial, the study found viewers fast-forwarded past beer spots less than one-third of the time – the lowest rate of any consumer product.

If they’re going to break into a 41-0 blowout, I’d rather see a pair of party girls than a pair of goofballs driving a $53,000 Hummer, any day.

But in an industry that increasingly faces complaints over its marketing to underage drinkers, beer commercials are surprisingly frank.

Today’s column kicks off what will be an annual Joe Sixpack State of the Sleaze report – a look at the beer commercials that entertain us during the industry’s biggest advertising period, the NFL playoffs. I’ll rate them on a scale of 1 to 6 (the best), in both sex and beer appeal.

   Rolling Rock

Sex appeal: Guy and girl discuss number of previous sex partners. He’s lying, she’s not. 4.

Beer appeal: Brief look at familiar green bottle. 2.

   Miller Lite

Sex appeal: Cat-fighting women with 42-inch knockers. In the mud. 6.

Beer appeal: Tastes great, less filling. 3.


Sex appeal: Twins. Need I say more? 5.

Beer appeal: No sign of beer bong. 1.

   Sam Adams

Sex appeal: Chastened by president Jim Koch’s broadcast commentary during a sex romp in a cathedral, Sam Light goes for humor. Bitchy wife/girlfriend gets poked in eye. She had it coming. 4.

Beer appeal: “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!!!” 3.


Sex appeal: Yuppies toasting New Year with suds. 1.

Beer appeal: A sad waste of expensive beer is lamented. 5.

   Michelob Ultra

Sex appeal. Low-carb beer? The only reason to get in shape is to lose your beer gut and score with chicks. 4.

Beer appeal: Low-carb beer? Who the hell drinks beer to get in shape? 3.

   Coors Light

Sex appeal: Airline stewardess sex fantasy. 6.

Beer appeal: If only that perfectly poured glass contained something other than Coors Light. 4.


Sex appeal: Why break up when you can make it with both chicks? 5.

Beer appeal: Think fresh? 1.

I’m not sure what all this means, but the most points go to Coors Light. Like I’ve always said, the worse the beer, the better the commercial.

Speaking of beer quality, I asked a couple local craft brewers what they would do with the $5 million or so you’d need to run a pre-Super Bowl beer campaign. After they got done laughing, they got serious. Well, almost.

Gene Muller, founder, Flying Fish of Cherry Hill, a former ad man:

“Twins? We’d get triplets!

“I’d take the money and go on vacation. Or sponsor a college football game: The Fish Bowl!

“Or maybe I’d put it into new equipment.

“But if I had to spend it on advertising, the ads would be more educational. It would be how our beers are different from all the other stuff, as opposed to the whole branding approach that big brewers take.”

Bill Covaleski, founder, Victory Brewing, Downingtown:

“I’d have to say that it would involve some very beautiful women. But of course, I’m speaking in terms of my own wretched excess.

“I don’t think we would spend it on TV advertising because we would never want to be perceived like one of those big beer companies. People expect us to have true quality.

“We created a quality product, then built our image off that. The big companies create an image, then sell whatever their accountants and brewmasters can agree on.

“So if I had that money, I’d get us a Partridge Family bus and travel around the country, turning people on to our beer, one by one. I’d make a connection with the consumer.”

   Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Heavyweight Old Salty 2001.


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