Are There Any Real Men Left in America?

By the 1980s, Miller's oldest brand, High Life, had become somewhat of a has-been. The drop in sales had caused Miller to discount it heavily, pushing it into the category of a "sub-premium brand" of beer.

Then, in 1998, Miller decided to take a shot at reviving the brand.

When the brief landed on the desk of Wieden + Kennedy Portland's Jeff Kling, all it said was …

Do something.

After reviewing the file and Miller High Life's history, Kling sent an email to a friend:

“Only a large scale decline in American manhood can account for the near disappearance of Miller High Life Beer.”

Out of this idea came the more finely-tuned idea to highlight and exploit America`s beleaguered masculinity.

The idea was to position Miller High Life as man's best ally in the ongoing battle to help the stronger sex stay strong.

Members of Kling's team went to a few Midwestern cities and started talking to guys. Out of their interviews, they came up with a male profile:

A real guy, a guy who likes to build stuff.

Guys who said things like …

"We have no sympathy for the guys in the collared shirts who get in their Lexuses at the end of the day and go cry into their beer."

The campaign featured life as it should be — one where duct tape, hot dogs, and burgers rule the day. And it pointed out things that real men should not have to put up with: fake fireplace logs, the inability to maneuver one's boat, and fruit.

Here are summaries of three of the ads from the Miller High Life series:

  • Miller High Life delivery guy goes into a Major League Baseball skybox with a delivery and asks the people mingling about if they can tell him what inning the game is in. When they can't, he leaves, taking the Miller High Life with him.
  • A guy watching his neighbor try to back up his boat into his driveway. The voice-over says, "There was a time when a man had command over his own vehicle. Better equip yourself with the High Life, soldier."
  • A hot dog is shown and the voice-over says, "Who cares what's in a hot dog?" After mentioning that the most important thing is that a hot dog tastes great, the voice-over continues with, "You do not ask of the hot dog, the hot dog asks of you. What are you made of? What spice do you add to the national knockwurst? What flavor do you contribute to the High Life?

Each advertisement shone the spotlight on some aspect of a way of life and a way of thinking that was disappearing — and in a humorous way.

By getting to the heart of their target audience, it became one of the most original and endearing campaigns in beer advertising.

The Miller High Life Man ads ran from 1998 to 2004. It reclaimed Miller High Life's heritage and also introduced it to a whole new generation of beer drinkers.

Do you remember the Miller High Life campaign? Do you have any comments you'd like to share about it?

If so, please post your comments here.

Tune in tomorrow when I reveal how an effort to promote a beer from Mexico resulted in the creation of a cultural icon.

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Published: February 5, 2013

17 Responses to “Are There Any Real Men Left in America?”

  1. Viagra uses the same principle in advertising. A product for real men.mentions

    Guest (DEAPE)

  2. Those were great ads. Unfortunately, since then there's been a major wussifying of American men on sitcoms and in commercials. If you look for it you'll notice it everywhere.

    Steve Roller

  3. The best combination/branding was with Miller Lite and their "tastes great/less filling" campaign. That series of commercials, using retired athletes and aging actors, was so popular and successful that some folks were considering making a sitcom using the celebrities that were in the commercial. Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Uecker, Bubba Smith, Yogi Berra, Dan Fouts, Kenny Stabler, Dick Butkus, Joe Frazier et al. Classics.

    Guest (Mark)

  4. I recall the campaign, laughed heartily at the commercials, but never bought the beer.


  5. The Miller High Life Campaign sounds like the general theme of the book, "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" which was a jab at the decline of masculinity in America.

    The post above mentions Viagra. I have always thought that the commercials for Viagra were lame. They show an older man and his lady doing the waltz, holding hands while sitting in lounge chairs, etc. The ad should show a silver haired gent coming out of a motel room with a buxom lady on each arm. Everyone is smiling and the caption reads, "Viagra, because experience counts."

    Guest (Norman Baron)

  6. I love when a company really digs in and nails it with an ad campaign. They totally revived a dead brand by tapping in to the male bravado. Well Played!

    Guest (Cindy Zeis)

  7. I loved those ads. They moved me to break out my old flannel shirts, buy a pickup, and fly my California grandsons to Michigan for quality time with ol' Grandpa!

    Tim Kimble

  8. No, unfortunately I don't recall any ads for Miller Beer. Possibly because I am not a drinker of beer but I am a devoted watcher of horses. Horses have been my 'totem' animal since I was a kid-lette. If I watch any beer commercials at all I watch with huge interest Budweiser's featuring those magnificent Clydesdales. So much poetry and strength in motion! And yes, there are real men in America, just harder to find.


  9. The campaign was awesome, but it didn't work for long. Beer is still not sexy.

    We are being pushed hard, toward wine. There has even been a short lived, hardcore TV reality mini-show in which a group of celebrities manage to act drunk and stupid, in a 30 minute wine tasting. Only the sommelier shows class.

    Guest (Dotty Dreux)

  10. I chuckled at the article on the Miller High Life ads, especially the one regarding "what's in a hot dog." As a college student, I had a part time job in an Armour meat packing plant in Boston. I knew what was in a hot dog and it was all good, clean meat and healthy nutrients. Also, the FDA was responsible for checking the ingredients on a daily basis. They did, and I enjoyed my hot dogs then, and now.


  11. I go back further than that.

    "If you've got the time, we've got the beer."

    No hype, no sexuality. Just relaxation, which is what having a drink is all about.

    Too many products have been torpedoed by hyperactive ad campaigns created by overly active if not hyper active admen.

    Sometimes, the best strategy is just letting it roll.

    Guest (A Murricun)

  12. Hi John Once-upon-a-time, not that long ago...
    Miller High Life was the order of the day...all others were striking for: second place. Along with that beautiful color...I had to: make sure I had it just right...the large mug with that golden liquid running down... overflowing...the style had to be right depict high quality and eye appeal. When the man behind the counter cast his I walked in the door...I could see the glint in his eye of pure satisfaction. I just marched up behind the counter to the spot...and hung the piece on the wall and turned it on. The Neon Sign read: Miller High Life...the best a man can get.



    Guest (JOE MURPHYY)

  14. These ads flash red lights and the word ETHICS . . . WOW 1998 on the eve of 9-11 and this crap might have started right-wing knee jerk in American politics. As copywriters we have to be responsible for where we are pushing people while selling beer, or cars or toothpaste. These cheap shot ads all share a para-military streak of opportunism and might have started the Bush era decade long slide into futile wars that helped to bring the USA to bankrupcy and diverted her from making real progress in society and the environment. The real challenge of a great ad is to build a new WOW awareness that shatter old myths that people will want to watch over and over again. Such can be seen in the Shangrila's lost in the woods -"wolf" ad that sells the passion of a hotel without even a word, a shot of a building or hotel room.

    Guest (akitaTAIHOKU)

  15. You can all drink the beer. I am saving up to do the course so I can be as good as the 'ideas people'.

    Guest (David)

  16. I love the Most Interesting Man ads. And I drink Dos Equis beer - when I drink beer. It's light enough for my tastes - but NOT so light I don't feel like I'm drinking beer. I like the fact that he's older - but still sexy - and NOT a little boy. I agree that most ads have men being talked to by their women in ways that would make women furious - if men were to treat THEM that way in ads. Great article.

    Guest (Judith)

  17. I am a 12 year military Veteran and a self proclaimed real man. Sorry Folks, real men do not drink Miller High Life.

    The stuff should be marketed to women.

    Can't wait for the responses. LOL ;0)

    Guest (ray)

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