Beer Commercials Are Not Stupid

Of all the strange and idiotic commercials during the Super Bowl, the strangest and most idiotic may have been the Pepsi Max commercials—the ones in which people engaged in frantic, hostile interpersonal hijinks over a can of soda. They were essentially beer commercials recast with a soft drink in the starring role.

This is testimony to the odd, sneaky-in-plain-sight success of the American domestic beer commercial format. Beer commercials are designed around certain dominant themes, but the people who sell the beer would prefer that the dominant themes be misunderstood. What are beer commercials about? The two central premises are these:

1. Beer—cheap, common, domestic beer—is a rare commodity that drives men mad with the desire to have it, at any cost.

2. Women are the great obstacle between men and the fulfillment of this desire.

Taken literally, this is baffling. Beer is cheap and easy to find. The only cost should be $6.99 for a six pack, at any convenience store. And rather than hiding from women to drink their beer, many single adult heterosexual men seek out female company when they’re drinking. “Drink our beer and avoid contact with women!”—who could possibly be the target for that pitch?

But it makes perfect sense if the target audience is—and it is—16-year-olds.

The girls aren’t really girls; they’re Mom. And Mom is the first hurdle in the thrilling obstacle course that makes up the world of the teenage beer drinker.

When you’re a teenage beer drinker, Bud Light really is the Holy Grail. You and your friends will carry forged documents, assume disguises and false identities. You will try bluffing the beer vendor in the cheap seats at the ballpark. You’ll approach a random biker by the dumpster outside the 7-Eleven and ask him to take a 20, hoping he’ll bring back a case of something cheap. You’ll try whatever other idiotic Wile E. Coyote schemes you can come up with.

That’s what the beer commercials are going after—the enthusiastic desperation of the underage drinker. That’s the business they’re in. What Pepsi thinks it’s going after, with a beer commercial minus beer, is beyond me.