We all know how bloated the ’80s were. “Greed is good,” sneered Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street. Excess became fashionable during the ’80s, and advertising picked up on the trend.
If excess wasn’t glamorized in the commercials, it sure was obvious in the production budgets.
Case in point: I remember first seeing a trio of Michelob commercials during a Saturday Night Live episode, around 1987, that blew my preteen mind.
The seduction was themed, “The night belongs to Michelob.”
The setting was any large American City—late night—real late night. Very cool people decked out in high-end ’80s fashion exploring the mysteries of after hours in the city. Who knows who or what they’ll run in to.
Naturally, as each spot ends and the theme comes up, every one of those beautiful people has a Michelob in one hand and an arm around a newfound significant other.
Each spot was set to a soundtrack by the biggest rock artists at the time, all enjoying the monster success of a recent album release.
I watched these spots obsessively as my brother and I would stay up late and record episodes of SNL on our super-high-tech VCR (that probably cost my dad a gazillion dollars at the time). Every day after school, we’d kick back to these tapes.
No wonder these Michelob spots have been tattooed in my head. A little now-that-I’m-in-advertising post-analysis gives me some insights why.
For starters, sheer repetition. Not only did Michelob spend big on airtime, I went on extended play on my time. Creative ploys completed the seduction:
1. The concept was set at nighttime. The mysterious, sleazy, dark part of nighttime, just before closing time—and after—when night people glide down shadowy rain-soaked streets illuminated only by a neon MICHELOB sign. Next stop: Who knows?
2. The epic-ness of big-city nightlife. The scenes didn’t identify New York City, to make it seem like Any Big City, but we know it’s New York. The interior shots made me want to hang out and have a beer at every one of those chic watering holes. Or even just walk those streets. And not leave.
3. The soundtracks were legendary. No jingles or stock, they were the real thing. Winwood, Genesis, Clapton. Gritty, driving, the pulse of the time. Tracks from names at the top of the charts then that still resonate today.
4. Finally, the spots exuded cool. They didn’t hammer us over the head with it. They didn’t have to. You could see it. You could feel it. They had entertainment value. More music video than commercial. Total cool.
I have to admit, this wonderfully strange campaign of fantasy-reality made me want to get into the TV and advertising business.
They made me want to be part of the magic. To someday get into people’s heads and influence them to buy a product from a company that I represent.
No question, Michelob spent a ton of dough on this campaign. Not only on the no-doubt megabuck rights to the songs, but also on production. All the footage was shot on location in a major market with talent. I can only imagine the production costs—which were probably over “way up there,” because, hey, it was the ’80s.
And, some of the spots were full :60s. Brands just don’t do 60-second spots anymore! Not to mention the client entertainment. “Bring in the boys from St. Louis—we’ll show ’em a good time!” Just like in the spots.
Thanks Michelob. I love looking back on this campaign today—a great snapshot from the decade of decadence, the ’80s. It’s still cool.
And, yes—I’ve been on plenty of TV shoots. Both in New York City and Los Angeles. Still looking to capture the magic of these spots.
Campaign ad agency—DDB Needham Worldwide