Thursday, April 25, 2019

Commercials From Hell: The Night Belongs to Michelob

I have been having a hard time finding writing inspiration recently, so I've decided to kick off a new series: Commercials from Hell. This is inspired by the amazing website Trailers From Hell, where commenters give glosses on old B movie trailers. This series will involve me writing about old television commercials and ad campaigns.

I have been consuming too many of these ads because late at night I find myself to watching old blocs of commercials on YouTube gleaned from old VHS tapes used to tape things off of TV (remember that?) Nothing puts me back into the past like these ads, since they don't get rerun, unlike the shows. They thus tend to be pretty amazing cultural artifacts of their time.

I want to start with the Night Belongs to Michelob campaign. Michelob is a product without a niche today, but back in the dark ages before craft beer it was Busch's "premium" beer. This meant that it tasted slightly less watery than Budweiser, and cost a little more. As a premium product, Busch would have to have a premium ad campaign. What better way to show class than a commercial with Phil Collins and Genesis!

I am struck by the juxtaposition of the young singles in fashionable yet bourgeois clothes with middle-aged rockers Genesis. Did they think this was going to sell to both age groups? Did the makers of this think that Genesis was super hip? Phil Collins skullet should have disabused the ad execs of that notion. There's also the awful moment where a guy puts a move on a young woman and puts his hands behind her neck, bottle of Michelob in hand.

Despite those off notes, there is an irresistibly noir element to all of this. Neon signs. Steam rising from manholes. Rain slicked streets. The song may be 80s cheese, but there's enough minor key mood that it sort of works with the commercial. When I saw it back in 1987 as an 11 year old, it gave me a bit of a thrill. Is this what being an adult was like? Seductive glances from across the bar, geezer rock, and a Michelob in hand? It was certainly alluring than beer ads with animal mascots and outdoorsy men going fishing. Premium beer indeed.

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