Editor’s Note: While we typically don’t cover the alcoholic beverage market here on BevReview, Mike Burns of CanMuseum.com explains the challenges that can face any brand when a creative idea meets licensing restrictions, poor execution, and public relations backlash.
In 2004, The Miller Brewing Company released an 8-can set in the United States to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Rock Music. To do so, they partnered with Rolling Stone magazine, Fender Guitars, and Napster (remember them?) to feature a diverse group of musicians in rock history. Their goal was to get a representative of different influential artists, styles, and time-periods as best as they could on the cans.
The cans were made, but not without controversy. After all, how can you possibly represent 50 years of rock on 8 cans? Unfortunately, those upset with the cans weren’t so because they felt certain artists were passed over, but because they took notice that no black artists were represented.
Miller Brewing Company responded with a public apology and insisted that when they were selecting artists, they did so based on the music business and not on race. In fact, they said they tried to get Jimi Hendrix on a can, but his estate declined participation. A number of other artists of all races also declined participation because they did not want to be associated with beer or alcohol due to their own bad experiences in the past with the beverage.
Other supporting promotions included Napster’s music giveaways and Fender’s guitar giveaways. The pinnacle of this promotion was the “Rock Through Time” concert in New York City at the Roseland Ballroom on September 17 and 18, 2004. No tickets were sold. Attendees had to win event tickets from the Miller Brewing Company. The lineup did not cause a race controversy and included: Lenny Kravitz, Bo Diddley, The Strokes, James Brown, Slash, Cheap Trick, The Doors of the 21st Century, Velvet Revolver, Ben Folds, Wyclef Jean, and The Darkness. None of these artists appeared on the cans.
The first four 24 oz. cans in the set are the Miller Lite cans. All are designed similarly with the artwork on a single side (aside from the silver band at the top). The silver band at the top reads, “Rolling Stone Collector Series”. On the front of three blue cans is a black and white photo of the featured artist’s (Elvis, Willie Nelson, and Blondie) Rolling Stone magazine cover along with the Issue number, date of the issue and quote from the issue. The 4th blue can has a black and white photo of the Fender Stratocaster guitar used by Eric Clapton and a Rolling Stone quote.
The last four 24 oz. cans in the set are the Miller Genuine Draft cans. These are designed the same as the Miller Lite cans with a few exceptions. There is no color band at the top. The same words appear at the top but the entire background is gold. On the front of the three Rolling Stone magazine cover cans we have Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi (note the Fender guitar… nice placement), and Def Leppard. The last remaining can, the Fender can, features Joe Walsh’s Fender Stratocaster guitar.
As I’ve said in the past, I’m a musician and a big music fan and I love this set for what it is. However, it could have been so much more.
If I had my choice, I would have been consistent and put a colored band at the top of the MGD cans. More importantly, I would have had 50 cans in the set. One can would represent an artist that was important in that year of rock. I like the Rolling Stone cover artwork, so that photo design and information would remain, but I wouldn’t put any cans out with just a photo of a guitar. The cans are to showcase artists, not instruments (even if the artist’s name is on the can). Lastly, to move away from the race issue and to focus on the diversity of music, I would make sure the photos on the cans were in full color.