Beer company knows how to get media's attention


SAN DIEGO – When the Miller Lite catfight girls sashayed into the room, arm-in-arm, wearing curve-hugging dresses, boxing promoter Don King babbled at one table, William “The Refrigerator” Perry was holding court on another microphone, Cris Carter was making his way to a radio interview, Warren Moon was discussing his evening plans in the center of the room, and Emmitt Smith had just stumbled in.

The multitude of sportswriters and talk-show hosts lucky enough to witness this scene probably thought they had died and gone straight to the big buffet line in the sky.

Based on our reaction to Tanya “Taste Great” Ballinger and Kitawna “Less Filling” Baker’s entrance into the Super Bowl media center, none of my colleagues will ever break bread inside the pearly gates.

Jaws dropped, and so did any pretense of sophistication.

You’d have thought Abe Lincoln, Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King Jr. had stopped by to hype the Super Bowl. I’ve covered 10 Super Bowls and have spent countless hours hawking interviews along radio row, and I’ve never seen anything like the stir Ballinger and Baker caused.

Miller Lite’s marketing department won. And there’s absolutely no turning back now. TV beer ads will only get racier, more sexist and less tasteful.

Surely you’ve seen the commercial. Two guys are sitting in a bar fantasizing about the perfect beer commercial. Their fantasy is a clothes-stripping, mud-wrestling catfight between a gorgeous brunette (Baker) and a drop-dead blonde (Ballinger) arguing in public over the long-held Miller Lite debate: tastes great or less filling?

“It’s purposefully over the top,” Ballinger told a Detroit radio talk-show host. “It’s all in good fun, all in fun.”

That depends on whom you ask. The commercial has caused quite a fuss. Some of my mature, right-thinking brethren have questioned why the NFL would ban the Las Vegas tourism committee from airing commercials during NFL broadcasts — the league frowns on gambling — but doesn’t care about these sexist advertisements.

It’s an easy answer. The NFL has been in bed with beers and babes ever since football became America’s No. 1 TV show.

Another interesting question also has developed. Where’s Martha Burk? Why aren’t women’s groups pressuring the NFL to distance itself from such over-the-top ads? Don’t these ads do more damage to the women’s movement than Augusta National’s gender exclusion?

“We’ve heard nothing but positive things from women,” Baker said. “Everybody seems to love the commercial and realize that it’s supposed to be a joke, it’s supposed to be over the top.”

While Ballinger and Baker were working the room, CBS’s highly successful and highly credible sideline reporter, Bonnie Bernstein, was also conducting a series of radio interviews.

“I can’t believe Emmitt just came in here and no one cares,” Bernstein joked. “Why can’t there be Miller Lite guys? Women drink Miller Lite, too.”

This battle has been lost.

Look, there’s no question the Miller Lite commercial is sexist. It makes women and men look bad. No question the world would be a safer, more fair place if this type of exploitation was eliminated. And, yes, if there were a commercial that openly exploited a negative, black stereotype, I’d be outraged.

But unfortunately, using beautiful women — and these women are more beautiful in person than they are on the commercial — to sell a product has become an accepted guilty pleasure in this society.

I don’t know the solution. I guess I’m just thrilled I got the privilege of meeting and talking to these women. I’ll talk to Emmitt next Super Bowl.