Dear Michelob Ultra:
I recently saw one of your commercials that roused an angry, unhealthy obsession in me. This wasn’t your light, prosaic, Chris Pratt advert that aired during the Super Bowl. This was your commercial depicting two women, in tableau, sidling up to a bar, ready for a night on the town. The woman on the right — a brunette — orders a white wine for her friend — a redhead — and, unsurprisingly, a Michelob Ultra for herself. The bartender first pours the glass of white wine. With each ounce, the glass begins to crack the marble bar top. The more he pours, the heavier the glass gets. By the time he’s finished, the entire bottom of the wine glass has broken through the marble.
A second bartender appears and sets a bottle of Michelob Ultra in front of the brunette. Smugly, she picks it up and smirks at the redhead, as if to say, “Drink up, fatty.” Male voiceover then tells me, “Michelob Ultra — 55% fewer carbs than a glass of white wine.” Unfocused in the background, we see the brunette chatting it up with a group of friends, the redhead nowhere in sight — seemingly run out of the bar for such a preposterous order.
If your memory is fuzzy, you can see the full ad here.
The ad is only 15 seconds, but as soon as the commercial ended I had this sick feeling in my stomach. Admittedly, though, I wasn’t entirely sure why. I suppose I felt bad for the redhead. All she did was order white wine and she was treated like a Hun.
My first reaction was to loathe the brunette woman, self-righteously grinning at her friend whose only desire was a simple glass of wine. I pictured the redhead finishing a long, grueling day of work — an overachiever forced to answer phones for some wheezing, obese broker who preys on young interns and says things like, “Take that ass downstairs and fetch me a danish, will ya, sweetheart?”
This obsession had run far deeper than it probably should have. After all, it’s just a commercial. Right? Most people probably watched your ad and didn’t give it a second thought. But (and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this), I was so incensed, I found your ad to be the first thing that would come to mind when I’d woke and the last thing I’d think before bed. Things were getting out of hand…
After my 100th viewing, I finally stowed my computer away, ready to let you off the hook. Then I realized something: Somebody had to conjure up this commercial. Somebody had to storyboard it all. Somebody had to make the decision to pay for Computer Generated Imagery depicting a wine glass breaking through fucking marble. So, I did what any insane person would do: I researched the ad agency representing you. I needed to know who was behind such a thing.
After a few quick keystrokes, I discovered Foote, Cone & Belding represented the Michelob Ultra brand (they’re also responsible for your Chris Pratt ad people inexplicably love). Its key executives are Carter Murray (CEO), Jonathan Harris (Vice Chairman & Executive Advisor, Global Creative), Neil Miller (COO), and Susan Credle (CCO). The agency has won dozens of awards and seems fairly well-regarded in the advertising industry.
But how can that be? How can a company that has created something so grotesque be so respected?
Your ad which, at its very base, insists if you order white wine you’re a fat slob, and if you order Michelob Ultra, you’re a skinny winner. I wondered what your ad might look like if two men had ordered the same thing. Perhaps the man who ordered white wine would suddenly get a paunch. Or perhaps his hair would magically turn grey. Or bald? Perhaps the man who orders white wine loses an inch in penis length? Granted, the hilarity of the penis ad would be much grander than your original, but I’m convinced there would also be far more outrage.
How dare you depict a man losing an inch of his penis? society would scream.
You’d have to pull the ad. You’d have to issue a public apology. You’d have to fire the creative staff and scramble to assure your shareholders this was just an oversight.
But why, when it comes to two women, are people so willing to let you promote body shaming? By concocting such a commercial, you’ve created a world where women go into bars, see a slew of their friends drinking Michelob Ultra, and sheepishly have to order their Chardonnay while their “friends” silently judge them.
Why have you done this to women? But, more importantly, as a man, why have some us sat idly by and watched this happen. Whether we want to admit it or not: Men have been complicit in the oppression of women for years; years filled with rampant sexual harassment, promotion of body dysmorphia, unequal pay, unequal rights, the creation of a general fear-inducing culture, and, as evidenced by your commercial, it’s even seeped into our pop culture. Maybe your Michelob Ultra ad was the straw that broke my camel’s back. Maybe, in this Harvey Weinstein-era of abuse, it can be the catalyst needed for change.
I hope so.
I hate what your Michelob Ultra commercial represents, and I hate that this idea went past the creative phase at Foote, Cone & Belding. Do yourself a favor: go back to pitching Michelob Ultra as the beer for athletes, because if you want to promote 55% less carbs, you’ll have to do it without shaming women.
Ben Hasskamp, Concerned member of society on a mission to civilize.
(This originally appeared on Medium on February 7, 2018)