“Man Law” campaign broke advertising’s Golden Rule: sell something.

I laughed out loud the first time I saw a Miller “Man Law” TV commercial. You know the ones featuring Burt Reynolds and the “Men of the Square Table” debating and then ruling on lofty issues such as leaving football games early to beat traffic, or whether or not the “high five” is officially played out.

By just about anyone’s standards, it was a very funny campaign. It’s no surprise that the campaign produced by rock star ad agency Crispen, Porter & Bogusky proved wildly popular and won all kinds of advertising awards. It’s even featured in Wikipedia, the web-based encyclopedia. As reported in Advertising Age, “the spots drew laughs, hundreds of thousands of entries to an online ‘Manlawpedia’ and pop-culture references.”

A Miller spokesperson said the campaign succeeded in generating “social currency” for the brand. I guess that’s a tricked-up euphemism for talk value. Unfortunately for Miller, it means nothing without sales. And the trouble is the celebrated campaign didn’t sell any beer. In fact, during the course of the campaign Miller Lite’s sales declined while competitors Bud Light and Coors Light saw their sales increase. Oops. That’s not good news for the Miller marketing team, and it doesn’t say anything good for the agency behind the work.

I’m sure CP&B will survive its latest brush with humility, but it begs the question: why didn’t the campaign produce sales results? The answer is simple, and it illustrates an expensive lesson that marketers and ad agencies have been learning over and over again for decades now. The point of advertising is not to entertain. The point of spending millions of dollars on advertising is to sell something.

The “Man Law” campaign, while every bit as funny and entertaining as many Saturday Night Live bits, simply failed to tell people why they should drink Miller Lite.It looks like Miller’s CEO is done laughing. He said, “We feel like it’s time to start putting some more focus back on the reasons why Miller Lite is simply a better beer than other competitive light beers.” Maybe CP&B will get back to the truly hard work of making effective advertising for Miller.

Keep the laughs but close the sale would be my advice if anyone is listening.