The Miller Lite people have a new ad featuring beer drinkers being instructed by a pro-sports-type commissioner in etiquette for the "More Taste League." But the entity needing a "More Taste" lesson is the Miller Brewing Co. itself.
Last year, Miller infuriated opponents of illegal immigration when the Chicago Tribune reported it paid $30,000 for a convention and newspaper ads publicizing a march of illegal-alien advocates to protest against Speaker Dennis Hastert's congressional office in Batavia, Ill. Consumers launched a national boycott.
Apparently, Miller learned nothing. What the brewing giant has now done is far more offensive. Now, Miller has chosen to associate itself with an event mocking the Last Supper of Jesus, one of the most precious religious occasions for Christians.
The Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco touts itself as the "crowning finale" of the city's Leather Pride Week festivities. It's not something you'd bring the children to, although in San Francisco those standards don't necessarily apply. Media accounts showed that in some cases whole families attended -- with the toddlers dressed in dog collars.
It is the kind of raunchy event that gives that city its reputation for decadence. But what really offended was the promotional poster for the fair. Seated at and standing behind a long table, Last Supper-style, are a set of men and women in various stages of leather dress/undress, including a man wearing a black dog mask. Sex toys, including a big red fist, are strewn across the table. As a spokesman for Concerned Women explained, "The bread and wine representing Christ's broken body and life-giving blood are replaced with sadomasochistic sex toys in this twisted version of Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper.'"
Prominently on display in the left-hand corner of the ad -- the Miller Lite sponsorship logo.
Miller Brewing would like consumers to think of it as a wholesome, all-American product. Instead, they're in danger of becoming the Honk If You Hate Jesus beer.
Miller Lite was the only national advertiser underneath this Christ-mocking image. When pressed by the Catholic League and other offended groups, Miller spokesman Julian Green gave the standard -- which is to say, slippery -- corporate answer. "While Miller has supported the Folsom Street Fair for several years," a nod to the gay community, "we take exception to the poster the organizing committee developed this year." If you think that was weak, try the next sentence: "We understand some individuals may find the imagery offensive."
Some individuals? There are over 225 million Christians in the United States. May be offended? It is a poster designed to insult them by blaspheming Jesus Christ.
And after putting out that Pablum, Miller still refused to remove its Lite or Genuine Draft logos from adorning the event or the event's promotional Website.
Then the Catholic League noticed that the Miller-funded event would also mock the Last Supper through the "queer nun" group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which would also receive funds from the event. On their Website, the nun-mockers promised: "No gastric craving will go unsatisfied, no bag of silver will go unspent, and no sin will go unforgiven. ... Don't be a Judas! Come, eat, drink and be Mary! Be sure to mention The Last Supper With The Sisters when you make your reservation."
When the Catholic League complained to Miller about this, "they were unimpressed," the League reported. The League has now called for a nationwide boycott of Miller beer. (Full disclosure: I am on the Advisory Board of the Catholic League and have endorsed the boycott.)
In turn, Miller announced it was conducting an immediate full-scale audit of its marketing and promotional procedures, which sounds like the company is being responsive, except again there was a dodge. The last line in this message underlined its lack of a moral spine: "It is important to understand that the Folsom Street Fair does not target the general public in its communications. The fair itself and the organization's Website are only intended for the adult alternative lifestyle community."
Translation: We market to Christians in the mass media. We also apply our logo to ads trashing those same Christians in our niche marketing to the "alternative lifestyle community." Anything for a buck.
The Miller Brewing Co. has a "Distributor Agreement," which reads in part, "Distributor shall preserve and enhance the high quality image, reputation and goodwill of Miller and its products through (i) the appearance and attitude of Distributor personnel." What do you suppose would be the corporate response if one of its drivers got into a truck cross-dressed as a Catholic nun? Or strolled into the company lunchroom and proceeded to dump on the table an assortment of X-rated sex toys?
In 2005, a Miller worker in Wisconsin was fired when he was photographed in the newspaper drinking a Budweiser. Now that, that was intolerable.