Some things just go together. Salt and pepper. Catsup and mustard. Beer and babes. Beermakers have used hot breasts to move cold brew almost since the time they first added hops to malted barley. Anheuser-Busch is no exception. The St. Louis brewmeister's latest attempt to mix sex with suds is a summertime campaign for Michelob featuring a sweaty female model looking very much like a sweaty Michelob bottle. You don't need beer goggles to figure that one out.
The ads depict a gold-haired woman with water beading on her body. Her head's thrown back, her eyes are closed and her face is the picture of bliss. A Michelob label looks like it has been shrink-wrapped to her body. In one version, the model sports a belt draped just above her navel that looks like a zipper. The latest ad making the rounds features a woman wearing a torn label as a shirt, the tear stopping just below the breast.
According to merchandising literature provided to retailers, the brewery expects the Michelob ad campaign to grab "some sophisticated sex appeal...featuring contemporary adults enjoying the sun."
The ads, which appear in this newspaper and other publications, are also plastered on bus shelters throughout the St. Louis area.
And that seems to have made somebody mad -- mad enough to roll out a guerrilla campaign of counter-ads consisting of protest stickers that have surfaced and resurfaced in a few pockets around town. The text of one large sticker reads: "Imagine she's your daughter helping sell Michelob with hot, sweaty sex. Still thirsty?" Another small sticker, affixed to some of the bus-shelter ads, is less cryptic: "This insults women."
The stickers have been most noticeable in Creve Coeur, along Olive and west of I-270, and at downtown bus stops near the courthouses and City Hall. The sticker-snipers haven't stepped forward to claim responsibility -- and checks with various local activist groups haven't yielded any suspects.
Walls USA, owner of the bus shelters and the folks who sell and maintain the advertising space, say that they learned about the stickers a little more than a week ago.
Bob Rowe, Walls USA general manager, says he's aware of the stickers because "I've been one of the people who's been taking them down."
He first heard about the defacements from one of the workers who cleans the shelters and changes the ads. According to Rowe, the signs have "hard-to-remove glue. I guess some of them were on the face of the young lady in the poster, and then I removed some of them that were down at the side. We took them down, hopefully just as fast as whoever was putting them up, put them up."
But Rowe says that the stickers mark the first negative comment his company has received about the ad.
"I think quite candidly, it's great creative. I'm not sure what whoever's doing it finds offensive about it," Rowe says. "I think it is quite interesting creative, considering what else is out there."
Liz Schroeder, executive director of Ad Women of New York, doesn't share Rowe's enthusiasm. "Aside from being derogatory to women, it is just a bad ad," Schroeder says. As for beer advertising in general, Schroeder says, "I would think that the bad press and declining sales created by the Miller Lite 'Catfight' would have been a signal to companies to re-evaluate their advertising."
The New York-based advertising group sponsors the "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" annual awards which highlight both the positive and negative portrayal of women in marketing. In late March, AWNY crowned Miller Lite's "Catfight" television commercials -- which feature two attractive women wrestling in the mud -- the winner of the "Grand Ugly" award for depicting women in the most offensive light possible.
"In my opinion, this kind of advertising not only demeans women, but it also portrays men as buffoons," Schroeder says.
Anheuser-Busch did not have any comments about the ad or the protest stickers. However, the "Nice Summer, Nice Finish" campaign for Michelob is expected to continue into August. And Rowe confirms that the bus-shelter ads will continue for a while longer.
No word on whether the brewery plans to morph any male models into beer bottles. After all, a beer gut matches the oval-shaped label quite nicely.