The Year in Beer 

1988 was the year when beer followed every other conceivable product in the long march "upscale." Beer tastings. Boutique breweries. Brew pubs. And "hip" beer ads. Hard hats were out. The marketing wizards decided that if you made beer a hip drink you could grow beer bellies on the yuppies as fast as you could on the blue-collar workers who sustain the breweries. Taken together, these new beer ads constitute a bizarre vision of the streets, as seen from the 24th floor.

Michelob: "The Night Belongs to Michelob"

Bright lights, big city. The kind of moneyed, languorous hipsters shown here seem more likely to spend their free time with designer drugs than beer. Maybe it's just the weekday nights that belong to Michelob. (By the way, is it still possible to "sell out" in 1988, or is that just a quaint bit of 60s jargon? Anyway, hats off to Michelob for its coup in successfully expropriating almost 25 years of hard-won credibility from Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.)

Michelob Light: "Light Up the Night"

What is it that makes this TV spot look so comically wrong? Is it the "band"'s front persons--three obvious models dressed in matching show-girl outfits? Or is it the guitarists--scrubbed-up, smiling arena-rock types hopping in unison across the stage? Or could it be the Interview magazine types in the audience, doing the carefully choreographed abandoned-dancing-in-public that apparently connotes kicky bohemian free-spiritedness to advertising people? You keep asking yourself, who on earth are these people supposed to be?

Old Style Special Dry: "Dry Yourself Off"

Now these spots are convincing. Filmed at Cabaret Metro, they conjure a late-night club atmosphere so realistic and sensuously evocative--lots of sweat, lots of short leather skirts riding up on fishnet thighs as exhausted dancers slump on benches--that they actually make you remember what beer tastes like at that point in the night--like some combination of bile and ashtray bottoms. Woops.

Old Style: "From the Heart of the Heartland"

We do watch with interest these quick parables about the Payton-type football player working out on a slag heap, the farm-boy pitcher breaking into the majors, the aspiring rock 'n' roller working his way from wedding bands to arenas. The weird thing here is that the campaign seems to be built around the simple honesty of the beer and its drinkers, yet each spot ends on the gratuitous tagline, "We don't want to be the biggest beer in America, just the best." This is a strange claim in light of the fact that Old Style isn't even the best beer that G. Heileman makes. I have to assume that the Heileman people know this, since they've been telling us for years that we can search the world over and never find a better beer than their premium brand, Special Export. Are they now saying that Old Style is their premium line? If not, how is it that they're tring to make it "the best"? There's nothing wrong with selling a mass-market beer, is there? Why not just admit it?

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