PRINT February 1986


the star-spangled pitch.

“THEY SAID THIS CITY was through. You said, No way. . . . And this Bud’s for you.”

Sometimes selling beer isn’t enough. Sometimes an advertiser has to stand up and be counted and urge consumers to do the same. What good is a Budweiser, even in a long-neck bottle, if your city is dead?

Hey Dad, you’re out of a job. Good morning! This Bud’s for you!

Our brewery friends at Anheuser Busch have realized that Bud isn’t what it used to be when you’re laid off in Detroit, when the mills are closed down in Cleveland, when the oil rigs are shut down in the Gulf of Mexico. This Bud is for after work, let’s face it. It’s not instead of work.

So today when they’re advertising today’s Bud, they’re issuing a challenge, a challenge to rebuild the industrial heartland of America. Even if you’re laid off, you’ve got to get out there and do something you can drink to with pride. You’ve got to rebuild that burned-out hulk of a city you live in. Until our industries are humming again there will be no true happy hour.

"You keep America growing. You keep the juices flowing. . . . And this Bud’s for you.”

Budweiser is not the only advertiser showing its concern for the future of America; Miller is in there too. In fact, it started the new wave of American beer advertising. “Miller’s made the American way.” I don’t know if Bruce Springsteen drinks it, but I know from the jingle that Miller is ”born and brewed in the USA.“ A lot of Miller beer is being quaffed in those rebuilding towns, too. It would seem that the towns Miller-drinkers are rebuilding were hit by natural disasters, not foreign competition. ”A place where people have a sense of pride, that’s what keeps ’em right here. Where you can count on your own, you call it your home and Miller’s the beer.”

Miller, you may have noticed, no longer advertises with that old jingle, “If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer” Perhaps too many members of the American labor force have got too much time.

“Buy American” ads are not exactly new. Every time a major American industry is troubled by international competition, there is a corresponding ad campaign designed to make Americans realize that it’s not their fault. How can you compete fairly with slave wages, child labor, and crazy oil sheiks? But “Buy American” ads point out that it is our fault if we don’t support our own products by buying them—and that includes our homegrown nuke power instead of foreign oil. “Buy American art” could be the next rallying cry.

There’s trouble in our garment industry today American factories just can’t crank out jeans and shirts for the same price that Third World sweatshops can. But that is not really the thrust of one ad currently appearing on television. We don’t see babies with bloated bellies chained to their sewing machines. Instead, the “Made in the USA”–label promotion features one big celebrity after another advising us to ”buy American.” There’s Sally Struthers, who is usually seen on spots asking us to adopt a Third World baby. Sally must believe in “Buy American. Donate foreign.” And there’s Don Johnson, who plays the ultrachic undercover-cop Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice. This is somewhat ironic considering that the cover that Crockett is under is more often than not made by Giorgio Armani. But whatever damage is done by Miami Vice fashions may be mitigated by this assurance that offscreen, out from undercover, and out of character, Johnson wears Union suits.

The most spectacular “Buy American” ad currently running is a Chrysler spot comparing the performance of a new Chrysler model with the performance of a German-made BMW model that sells for almost twice as much. We’ve seen such spots before, but never before have we seen one in which the performance test—acceleration, turning, and braking—took place on the flight deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier. As the American car and the enemy car are racing around the flight deck, past parked fighters and bombers, we hear the strains of George M. Cohan’s classic 1917 tune "Over There.” As you might expect, the Chrysler car not only outaccelerates and outcorners the Bavarian Motor Works product, it also stops faster. In fact, the BMW hangs precariously from the very edge of the flight deck over the bow of the vast warship. The driver of the BMW looks shaken, and who can blame him. Dozens of Navy pilots lose their lives that way every year.

We are used to seeing multibillion-dollar warships chauffeuring actors like Kirk Douglas and Richard Widmark around in Hollywood films, but aircraft carriers are still something of a novelty in the world of television commercials. Perhaps, with their crews of thousands, they are a little pricey for a 30-second spot. So how did Chrysler land one for their ad? Well, how did Chrysler stay in business a few years back? Uncle Sam bailed them out. This ad would seem to be more than a subliminal metaphor for the US government keeping Chrysler so idly afloat. That’s Chrysler, the company that reportedly offered Bruce Springsteen $6 million to appear in an ad and license his song “Born in the USA.” Springsteen turned them down, but Chrysler-Plymouth did manage to commission a very Brucelike rock tune called “Made In the USA” for a recent campaign.

In Zenith-television ads comparing picture quality of major brands of TV, a Japanese actor, portraying a representative of Sony, has a bit of a temper tantrum when he finds that Zenith beat Sony in the test. Maybe Chrysler thought that challenging Toyota to a road test on the deck of an American aircraft carrier would be a bit much. It would have been considered tasteless, no doubt, if the driver of the Toyota (the white Toyota with the rising sun painted on its side) were Japanese, especially if he were dressed in an aviator’s helmet and goggles, and especially if, seeing that he was losing the performance test, the Japanese driver had refused to brake, but instead flew from the end of the aircraft carrier and sank into the Pacific (somewhere near the Midway islands, perhaps) rather than live with the shame of Toyota’s defeat. Sound far-fetched and beyond any imaginable standards of taste and civilized behavior? Sure. But you’ve got to see just how close that BMW comes to landing in the drink.

Glenn O’Brien writes reviews and a column on advertising for Artforum.