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Wondering where all the digital dive bars went, not realizing they never existed at all
Miller Lite's "metaverse bar" stunt, plus Taco Bell-style hard seltzer and more!
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The Super Bowl is a huge advertising event for the beer business. It’s an opportunity to introduce new product lines to drinkers and start building momentum for the critical Memorial Day-to-Labor Day summer sales stretch. But if you’re a brewer whose name isn’t Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Big Game is a big problem, because for the past several decades, the world’s biggest beer company has owned the exclusive right to advertise not just beer, but any kind of alcohol during the national Super Bowl broadcast.
In the past, breweries have gotten around ABI’s buyout with creative solutions. In 2014, Newcastle hired Anna Kendrick to do a fake ad where they bleeped out the word “Super Bowl” and then pretended they ran out of money and couldn’t air it anyway.Last year Sam Adams bought local slots in a bunch of local markets (which are cheaper, and not subject to ABI’s national-level blackout) to air a Clydesdale send-up promoting its Wild Hazy IPA. Other companies have pulled similar stunts in the past, trying to cutely counter-program the Big Game without incurring the wrath of ABI’s legal department in the process.
But that was the old way of doing things, and if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that Web3 is the new way of doing everything. So, naturally, for this year’s game, Miller Lite has created a bar in the metaverse where you can watch its not-Super Bowl ad during the Super Bowl, if you’re so inclined. AdAge has (some) details:
The bar opening in virtual platform Decentraland will be the sole place where fans can watch Miller Lite’s “Big Game” ad. […] The brand plans to offer rewards to select patrons at the virtual bar, among other ways to engage. Much like Super Bowl advertisers keeping details secret leading up to the game, Miller Lite is currently keeping much of its plans under wraps.
OK! There are three ways to receive this information: as a creative PR gambit, as a maybe-prescient culture-making maneuver, and as yet another depressing bit of crypto-inflected corporate cringe. Let’s take those in order.
As an exercise in headline generation, Miller’s metaverse bar play mostly failed to gain traction beyond trade publications. Its biggest press hit by far was an appearance on Late Night with Stephen Colbert—a huge primetime mention, to be sure, but a fairly negative one. (Molson Coors exec vis-a-vis the skewering: “we embrace humor.”) Maybe the brand will be able to capture more mainstream attention next week as it trickles out additional details about its virtual watering hole. Or maybe it won’t because everyone is fucking tired of writing about blockchain-based marketing stunts after a 2021 chock-full of them in the CPG space and just generally. We’ll see!
I actually don’t hate the idea of a bar in the metaverse, which is why I think this move is maybe-prescient on Miller Lite’s part. Regardless of your feelings on crypto and NFTs and Web3 right now, it seems likely that blockchain technologies will hold an increasingly relevant place in the way we communicate, hang out, and do business in the future. If that’s true—I say if, because I certainly have no idea what I’m talking about re: metaverse stuff, and anybody who claims they do is probably lying to you—then I do think that vital IRL third places like bars are a natural jumping off point for reimagining what community hubs look like online. Miller Lite (or at least, its agency) clearly understands this, too: “Part of our goal is to demystify the metaverse and make it more approachable for the everyday person by creating an environment they’re used to, a bar,” Sofia Colucci, Molson Coors’ global marketing VP, told The Drum, which reported:
there will be a virtual bouncer that will check IDs to make sure all visitors are legal drinking age. There will also be darts, lots of Miller Lite signage and “we even have bathrooms and we’re not sure why, but we have them,” says Ben Wolan, executive creative director at DDB San Francisco. He jokes: “We’re still working on the technology for the bleach smell.”
Again, this all seems corny and clunky right now, but if—again, if—you think that we’re going to be spending more time interacting with one another online from now until the heat-death of the universe in a couple decades (which ironically may be hastened by all that time we’re spending interacting with one another online, hmm), then there’s good reason to start developing virtual spaces to host those interactions. I would rather be in a real dive bar than a virtual dive bar, and I suspect you would too. But if IRL isn’t an option because of another pandemic (or the interminable extension of this one, lololol), there’s a case to be made that a digital proxy is better than nothing at all. Your mileage may vary, but I’m personally not ready to shut that conversation down just because it’s defined by buzzwords and hype right now.
But there’s also a case to be made that corporations—whether Facebook/Meta or Molson Coors—are inherently incapable of building vital third places, because environments built to serve the needs of capital will always alienate people who just want to, like, hang out. We already know this to be true in the real world! It’s the reason Airbnbs are often warmer and more welcoming than hotel rooms, and why no one reasonable prefers an Anywhere, USA strip mall to a small-town Main Street. Think about the differences between your favorite independent sports bar and, like, every Buffalo Wild Wings you’ve ever been inside. They share a lot of the same elements—the memorabilia, the TVs, dudes loudly explaining NFL overtime rules to their girlfriends who do not care—but you’d never mistake one for the other, right?
In that paradigm, Miller Lite’s push into the metaverse looks less like an innocuous experiment and more like a digital land grab. I see why the brand sees value in it, but I’m not sure that we’ll get value from it. If we are headed for the metaverse (again: iffffffff), who will get to decide what our bars should look like there? Should it be a macrobrewerlike Molson Coors or ABI? Or should it be independent artists and creators like Friends with Benefits and Sad Girls Bar, which are already building virtual community around food and drink?
If the past is any indication, corporate players will make a hard push for virtual hegemony. As Ryan Broderick, editor of the very-good internet culture newsletter Garbage Day, put it in October 2021:
[E]very few years, we find ourselves at a digital fork in the road. With all new technology, we’re given two choices: let massive corporations use this technology to further consolidate power or use it to make the internet more free and open. That’s where we are right now with this metaverse stuff… It feels like some form of a Web3 metaverse is coming and we’ll be given a choice. Do we use it to build a better and more open internet of our own or will it power the Facebook mall where you can buy Avengers skins for your Instagram Shopping avatar?
I’m not sure alcohol—which always lags behind bleeding-edge culture due to, like, laws and stuff—has quite reached that fork in the road just yet. But I do think it’s coming. Metaverse Miller Lite bars, Budweiser NFT concerts, and virtual Walmart wine aisles feel a lot more “Facebook mall” than they do “internet of our own.” But if we disregard these early developments as mere crypto-crazed corporate cringe, we may find ourselves someday wandering through a virtual world, wondering where all the digital dive bars went, not realizing they never existed at all.
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🧾 The Settle-Up
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Human Rapillomavirus Post Malone Will Release His Own Beer (Billboard) Which, Like, Best of Luck, Man (VinePair), Maybe Double-Check with La Flame First? (Good Beer Hunting)
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The campaign was called “If We Made It,” and at one point had whole landing page at IfWeMadeIt.com. These days, that URL points to a spammy Indonesian poker site. The inexorable march of time!
Full disclosure: I bought some stock in Boston Beer Company in December 2021. It does not influence my coverage of the company or its brands.
US alcohol laws actually ban big booze companies from owning IRL bars entirely to forestall the vertical integration that caused many of pre-Prohibition pain points. Which is kind of interesting to think about in a metaverse context!