Ad Report Card

Second Bananas of the World, Unite!

Miller’s great new ad takes on Bud—and fails.

Spot: “Dominoes.”

Product: Miller beer.

Synopsis: People fall down. One knocks over the next, like human dominoes. The chain reaction snakes through city streets, jumps onto and off of a bus, and traverses a train station. The mayhem finally ends inside a bar, when one guy manages to hop aside just before he gets knocked over. He turns to the nearby bartender, who hands him a Miller Lite. Closing voice-over: “At Miller, we brew great tasting beer. Because you can get in line and take what they give you, or you can make your own choices.” The tag line text fades in: “Miller. Good Call.”

Analysis: I’ll always have a place in my heart for second bananas—the Pepsis and the Schicks of the world. Because I see in them a certain noble sadness. I mean, imagine it: You’re a mega-brand—a huge success, with massive sales and worldwide distribution. And yet the insecurity gnaws at you. You dwell in the shadows of your rival, trapped in the murky half-light, longing to feel, just once, the sun on your face. Oh, you muddle on, ever the gracious runner-up. But inside there is red-hot rage. At night you shriek into your pillow: “I hate you, Gillette! Hate you hate you hate you!” And you sob until you fall asleep.

Or at least that’s how I would handle it. Strangely, Miller Brewing Co.—a classic second-banana brand—appears to have a different plan.

This spot kicks off Miller’s new campaign, and it’s a remarkable feat of choreography. (Even more so than Miller’s last ads, which featured the catfighting models who rip each other’s clothes off.) The dominoes effect is no trick—it’s just 150 stunt people falling down, over and over (changing outfits between takes), to create a city full of human dominoes. It’s perfectly done, in large part because the stunt people are so good. (One of them is a gymnastics champ; another is a judo champ.)

The lesson here is evident: Don’t be a sheep. Break from the pack. But while the message is crisply transmitted by the visuals, and the spot itself hugely entertaining—I especially love the more creative falls, through revolving doors and such—I’m not so in love with the brand strategy.

I asked the ad’s creative director (Jon Wyville of Young and Rubicam) about the thinking behind “Dominoes.” He told me that Bud/Bud Light has become a “default” choice, which people order “without giving it much thought. If we can get people to think about what they’re ordering, it would be a huge accomplishment.”

I agree. I’m squarely in the target demo (25- to 35-year-old guys), and beer, at least for me, is a point-of-purchase decision. I’m often not sure, even as I’m ordering, why I’ve chosen a certain brand (especially late in the evening, when I’m also not sure where I live or what my name is). That said, getting me to think harder about my beer choice, to not go with the first thing that pops into my head, is not the way to get me ordering Miller. It might lead me to a chichi new import or a carefully crafted microbrew, but it’s hard to imagine carefully weighing all my options and concluding that Miller is my absolute best choice.

What’s more, this pitch reads a bit like an admission of defeat. We give up. We’ll never catch Bud. We’ll always be second in category. So come, drink with the beautiful losers. Side with the little guy. Fight the power. It’s a stance that I just don’t buy—I’m not sure you can play the outsider card when your market share ranks somewhere between Budweiser’s and Coors’. (Granted, way behind Budweiser—Anheuser-Busch brews nearly one out of every two beers sold in the United States.)

But what do I know? I drink Coke and shave with a Mach 3. You tell me, second-banana brand fans: Why are you choosing Schick/Pepsi/Miller? You can tell me it’s simple preference. After all, Pepsi wins in blind taste tests. But is it more than that? A contrarian statement? A vote for the underdog? Do you really feel you’re sticking it to the man, not “taking what they give you,” by going with a slightly less monolithic mega-brand? Do you congratulate yourself on making a “good call,” as the tag line suggests? Do you think you’re better than me? Do you?

It seems that’s what Miller’s banking on. And I wish them great luck. Because despite my alpha-brand tendencies, I do still love an underdog—except when it slices up my face like a Schick razor. So viva la revolución! Long live the second banana!

Grade: I’m giving this a B. It’s a wonderful visual, and you couldn’t ask for better execution. But I can’t see Miller staying on this tack for long. The moment they waver, we’ll once again be seeing the old tried and true: babes with nice racks. I suppose it could be worse.