Though most corporate interest in the gay market materialized in just the last few years, No. 2 US brewer Miller Brewing Co. has had a fearless presence at San Francisco gay pride events and the leather-oriented Folsom Street Fair since the 1970s.
But delays for this local TV commercial supporting San Francisco AIDS group SMILLE aimed at the gay market last year caused problems and angered the San Francisco gay community.
The company claims the original commercial wasn’t created through proper channels, while others close to the situation say there was fear of a backlash. The ad, featuring shirtless muscle men, never aired as planned on San Francisco’s local cable program QTV last year though, after much wrangling, a replacement commercial was provided by the brewer.
Chris Amburn used to work for promotional group Team Enterprises, and handled the Miller account. Since the brewer was already a sponsor of the SOMA Bare Chest Calendar, Amburn pitched the idea of a TV commercial behind it, an idea he says local Miller distributors liked.
"They told me they wanted to get it done without corporate red tape – so (executives at headquarters in) Milwaukee didn’t know about it," he says.
Amburn admits it would have looked better with more funding, but he shot it on a shoestring budget in his backyard pool, wrote the ad’s music and even recorded it with friends.
Excited to have a breakthrough ad on his program, Rahn Fudge of QTV put out a press release about the commercial, which was picked up by advertising trade magazines. When Miller executives in Milwaukee got a call for comment, they were caught off guard.
"All hell broke loose," says Amburn. "They made veiled threats to me. Then Miller said we need to go through proper channels" and the commercial was held. "Miller made a lot of excuses. They thought it was dangerous drinking by the pool. They said ‘It’s not up to our quality.’ "
Miller spokesman Ron Acosta explained that the situation was unusual and that "producing a (TV) spot is not something local markets do, you leave that to the (advertising) agencies. Spots produced locally are usually promotional and not brand-driven. As far as I know, it’s never been done before."
For months last year, Miller would not say what the issues with the commercial were, only that it was being reviewed, and insisted that the spot was not cancelled. To further complicate matters, the brewer changed ad agencies. Controversy was also still brewing about a gay market print ad for Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light that showed two men holding hands.