Ilana Glazer in the Miller Lite commercial aimed at. . . no one.

The Great Light Beer War of 2023

Can stoking the culture wars make a can of suds relevant?

I wasn’t going to watch it. I was going to sit this one out. But I’m a big fan of Broad City, so I did it. I clicked the Miller Lite ad featuring Ilana Glazer that was making the rounds on Twitter. I will do my best to explain what this ad consists of, because boy, is it a strange one.

With her hectoring tone and high-neckline sweater, the Glazer of this ad has none of the traits of her semi-autobiographical Broad City character Ilana, except the sassy delivery. Strolling through a strange hybrid of a brewery and a history museum, she opens with this:

“Here’s a little-known fact. Women were among the very first to brew beer, ever.” 

She says this as if speaking to someone who did not believe women were capable of tying their own shoes. Feeling properly scolded, the viewer is then asked, “Centuries later, how did the industry pay homage to the founding mothers of beer?”

Answer (gasp!): “They put us in bikinis.” 

We then segue, awkwardly, from feminism to environmentalism: “It’s time beer made it up to women.” 

Glazer, now surrounded by old beer ads featuring attractive women in bikinis, says Miller Lite is buying back all this “$#!T” so that female brewers can turn it into compost. She throws one poster of a girl who got paid to sell beer—technically, Glazer’s predecessor—into a dumpster. 

But watching the video did not get me angry. Nor did it make me want to buy beer.

It just made me feel confused

Glazer is an attractive millennial actress, one who is not averse—nor should she be!—to showing off her physique, and not just on her TV show. An Instagram post of hers from a few days ago, where she’s in a sports bra, has some commenters crying hypocrisy. Moreover, the feminism of Broad City would put a man in a Speedo to push beer and make a point about gender equality, rather than dressing Glazer in a Republican lady’s pullover.

It made me wonder: who is this ad trying to target? There probably are people out there who—even today, decades into the existence of online pornography—find bikini-clad women scandalous. But they tend to be religious conservatives, who are not necessarily in the market for light beer. 

I assume Miller Lite’s ad execs thought they were grabbing their share of the millennial female demographic who have mainstream feminist views. But these days it’s an uphill battle to make drinking seem desirable to any young people. Many have gone off alcohol completely, while more health-conscious types are warned off even small amounts of the stuff. In Toronto, where I live, there’s a legal weed shop on every corner, offering a more chill buzz without the apparent baggage.

Rather than appeal to young people’s sense of fun or desire to let loose, execs have tried to make a play for our politics. But, in their quest to excite outrage-prone progressives—or maybe even infuriate their conservative counterparts—beer companies are sparking more backlash than they bargained for.

Dylan Mulvaney shilling for Bud Light.

Take Bud Light. Last month, trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney shilled for the beer brand, with the company putting her face on a can to celebrate her “365 Days of Girlhood.” This, predictably, led to a convulsive outrage cycle. Suddenly Kid Rock was shooting at cans of Bud Light, and some dad in Georgia was hawking his own “conservative” “woke-free” beer.

Next, we got progressives’ counter-outrage. In the name of owning the cons, we had members of the gay community holding up Bud Light as an avatar for queer rights, and a Guardian column effectively defending Miller Lite in the name of. . . feminism.

Perhaps Bud Light thought any publicity was good publicity. But that doesn’t make it good business. 

Bud Light’s sales are down since their publicity stunt, at approximately 23 percent lower than in the same week last year. Now, to combat cratering profits, Anheuser-Busch is reportedly releasing yet another custom can, but this one covered in macho-appropriate camouflage, an apparent mea culpa to middle America. 

I never thought I’d pine for the days of Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World.” 

The way the culture wars work, everyone quickly divides into teams. Either you’re mad at the beer, and thus inadvertently promoting it by yelling at it, or you’re nobly supporting the beer, which has been maligned by its bigoted opponents. This does not allow for a normal person’s reaction, which is simply to drink beer and forget about the world.

What the beer folks are aiming for is relevance. What they’re landing on, instead, is pointlessness.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy is a writer based in Toronto. She is a columnist at The Globe and Mail and co-host of the Feminine Chaos podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @BovyMaltz.

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