Last night’s best ad may only have aired in North Platte, Nebraska. According to Deadspin, that’s where Will Ferrell’s latest Old Milwaukee commercial made its exclusive debut during last night’s Super Bowl, on Nebraska’s KNOP-TV. The 30 second spot sees Ferrell wade through an amber field towards the camera, grab an Old Milwaukee, and then…:
It may end abruptly, but the ad makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen Ferrell’s other Old Milwaukee spots. Ferrell has filmed as many as eighteen other commercials for the Pabst Brewing Co. beer, from Terre Haute, Indiana to Davenport, Iowa, and aired them exclusively on small local stations across the Midwest. (Local viewers usually capture them on DVRs or record them on digital cameras and then upload them to YouTube, which explains the poor quality of most of the videos below.) Many of them take a vaguely meta approach, parodying the tropes of (less ironic) advertising, with Ferrell frequently failing to complete the ads (or so it would seem).
Why would Ferrell and Pabst make ads that only air on local stations? In part because of posts like this one, which bring them to larger audiences. Pabst revived its Pabst Blue Ribbon brand largely through, as frequent Slate contributor Rob Walker described it, “The Marketing of No Marketing,” or “murketing,” and it seems to be taking a similar strategy here. The ads have the cred of being filmed on location in the Heartland, ostensibly advertising only for local folk, but online they reach eyes from coast to coast. Ferrell himself, of course, is no stranger to viral video, having himself co-founded viral video site Funny or Die.
Meanwhile, the advertisements also preserve Ferrell’s own credibility both as spokesman and comedian: Rather than a paid shill for a beer company, he’s a joker paying homage to something he loves—not just a beer, presumably, but the heartfelt awkwardness of heartland Americana (Pabst says that the ads, which he is reportedly doing for free, were his idea).
So these ads might be targeting us YouTube viewers every bit as much as any ads that were aimed at your couch last night, but they’re still worth watching for some of Ferrell’s finest work. I’ve rounded up what I could find of the others, which have been making the rounds a few at a time, below.