The comedian filmed a series of grainy local TV spots promoting the unsavory lager, reportedly on his own initiative. Is there more to the story?
Will Ferrell would like you to drink Old Milwaukee beer… provided "you" are one of the 99,685 people who live in Davenport, Iowa. The A-list comedian recently shot a series of ads for the widely maligned beverage (a sample review: "Nothing special, or horrendous") after contacting the Pabst Brewing Co., which owns the brand, and asking if he could film the commercials free of charge. (Watch one of the ads below.) Currently, the commercials only air on local TV in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. Why did he do this? Here, a guide:
So Ferrell just called up the brewing company?
Yep. At least that's what Daren Metropoulos, co-owner of Pabst Brewing Co., says. "Will Ferrell approached Old Milwaukee about creating ads because he's a big fan of the brand," Metropoulos tells Ad Week. "We gave him the freedom to pursue his creative vision and produce these spots with a local vibe." It's unclear why he chose Davenport, of all places, as his preferred location, but he shot the ads in the Iowa city over several days in September.
What are the ads like?
In the first ad, he attempts to create an acrostic poem extolling the virtues of Old Milwaukee beer using the letters in Davenport ("D for drinkability. A for amber, the color of the beer..."), before becoming frustrated and abandoning the effort. Another ad finds him fly fishing in Davenport, trying to justify why that once seemed like a fun idea. In other words, says Marah Eakin at The A.V. Club, these ads show Ferrell at his most absurd — which is when he is "always at his best."
Are they successful?
All of the commercials have been posted on YouTube, where they quickly gained popularity outside of the Quad Cities. Within five days, the first ad accrued more than 32,500 views, says David Burke at the Quad-City Times. Currently, the most watched clip has 114,000 views, "which isn't exactly gangbusters these days," says Gabriel Beltrone at Ad Week. Nonetheless, the amusing ads are buzzy enough to "nicely dust off a brand that seems to have fallen out of the popular consciousness." The peculiarity of the whole campaign will also serve Old Milwaukee well, says Jim Edwards at Business Insider. Likely to grow in YouTube popularity, these ads "will be huge."
And Ferrell has no ulterior motive?
Despite Pabst's claims that Ferrell made the ads purely out of his passion for the product, the whole thing actually "might be a guerrilla marketing campaign engineered by Ferrell" as part of a partnership that his comedy website Funny or Die organized with Pabst back in 2010, says Eakin. Though the ads have yet to appear on Funny or Die, says Beltrone, they "could easily be seen as branded entertainment." It's "also curious" that the campaign coincides with Old Milwaukee's revamp of its website and Facebook page which spotlight historic commercials, some as unusual as Ferrell's. "Are the Ferrell spots supposed to hark back ironically to the brand's commercial heyday?"
And the ads really only air in Davenport?
A spokesperson for Pabst confirmed that it's not a national campaign. Originally, three ads directed at Davenport aired exclusively on local TV and cable networks in the Quad Cities — a grouping of five cities in Iowa and Illinois straddling the Mississippi River that includes Davenport. On Wednesday, however, a new group of similar Ferrell ads targeted specifically at Terre Haute, Ind., began airing on channels in that local market, according to Terre Haute's Tribune-Star. The comedian also filmed those in September at the city's busiest intersection and at a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
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- Will Ferrell