So. Here we go. We’re now barely 12 weeks into the new adventure in beer advertising that is the Chicago-based Cavalry agency. We don’t want to overstate the matter, but to a large degree, the immediate fate of American beer advertising may rest in the hands of two gentlemen entrusted with the formidable task of determining how the Coors Light and Coors Banquet beer brands will be marketed in the months — and perhaps years — to come.
We throw in that “perhaps” because these are tumultuous times in the beer advertising world. Who knows any more how long any agency can hang on to a major beer account.
That fact of life was made manifest in the recent agency shakeup that saw McGarryBowen/Chicago lose the Bud Light account to Translation just months after it was awarded the business. That was a stunning turn of events that could result in Anheuser-Busch chief marketing honcho Paul Chibe being proved a genius. Or else one of the more clueless executives in the beer business.
But back to Cavalry and its two leaders — CEO Marty Stock and chief creative officer Jim Larmon — who appeared remarkably cool and collected on the sunny, exceedingly nice summer morning that we gathered to chat in Larmon’s neatly laid-out creative lair.
The somewhat poker-faced Larmon previously spent six years at DDB/Chicago, where he oversaw the Capital One credit card account and a string of popular, high-profile ads featuring Alec Baldwin and Jimmy Fallon.
The pairing of Stock and Larmon may be one of the more curious and intriguing match ups in Chicago advertising in recent memory. Stock, who came over from DraftFCB/Chicago and has been working on the Coors brand for decades, obviously knows the beer business backward and forwards. He doesn’t browbeat a visitor with his considerable knowledge, however. It just flows out in a pleasingly authoritative way.
Pressure is on exciting beer advertising — for a change
As for Stock’s relationship to Larmon, we would describe it as rather avuncular. They are obviously still getting to know one another and developing that all-important working relationship.
But that rapport seems to be coming along nicely.
Or why else would Stock turn to Larmon at one point during our conversation and suggest — only half-jokingly — that all the real “pressure” at Cavalry is on its creative leader who must deliver campaigns that will not only fuel more Coors sales, but also give the creatively-depleted beer category some exciting advertising for a change.
And let’s be honest. These past couple of years — more than that really — have been far from the greatest in the annals of American beer advertising. Yes, Coors Light has its silver bullet train. Miller Lite gave us a lot of hijinks at the bar shtick.
And let’s not forget Bud Light. Poor dear Bud Light. That brand began running out of creative steam years ago at DDB/Chicago, truth be told. But no one seems to have had a bright idea that would rectify the problem. “Wassup,” the iconic Bud Light campaign from DDB that, most unfortunately, sparked a thousand poor imitations over the past decade, now seems so long ago and far away.
Larman’s best Bud spot almost never aired
Which brings us back, again, to Larmon. And that enormous pressure on him. Though he hasn’t gotten a lot of media exposure, we must say he has one of the most appealing reels of work we’ve seen. And all of it is on display at jimlarmon.com. “There’s a lot of comedy in my reel,” said Larmon. True.
Looking at Larmon’s output recently, we recalled we were smitten a while ago with one Bud Light spot on his reel. Called simply “Dude,” it is fun and funny in an unexpectedly quiet way — as one guy uses subtly different inflections of the word “dude” to gently chastise his buds for their objectionable behavior.
Larmon revealed to us during our chat that “Dude” almost never made it on air. Isn’t that always the way with the best stuff? The spot began as a simple film exercise shot on the streets of New York by a friend who shared it with Larmon.
Sensing that — with a little tweaking —it would make a swell Bud Light commercial, Larmon also knew it wasn’t in the mold of — or an easy fit with — the Bud Light advertising formula DDB/Chicago was pushing at the time. Still Larmon believed in “Dude” enough to daringly go around normal channels and get the spot in the hands of Anheuser-Busch executives, who wound up green lighting it.
But “Dude” actually isn’t Larmon’s favorite work on his reel. He points to spots for Turner Classic Movies and the Discovery Channel as some of what he considers his best executions.
Indeed, these are choice commercials, too, as they demonstrate Larmon’s ability to handle smart humor (see the “Rocky” spoof for TCM) or produce work that is more weirdly offbeat, yet accessible, a la “Antlers” for the Discovery Channel.
Initial Coors Light and Banquet work in production
What is Larmon getting ready to deliver for Coors Light and Coors Banquet? Well, of course, he wasn’t in a position to reveal much, except to say that an initial wave of work is already in production. Exactly when it will air is unclear. But the best guess is sometime this fall — assuming it tests well enough. Yes, MillerCoors, like arch rival Anheuser-Busch, insists on testing work first. Sad. But true.
While Larmon undoubtedly will want to put his unique stamp on his first work as Cavalry’s creative leader, he may find more than a bit of a countervailing force in Stock, that avuncular soul who is a big believer in continuity in beer advertising.
Stock told us Coors has a ton of equity in that silver bullet train that is so closely linked to Coors Light.
And we gathered from Stock’s remarks the train isn’t about to disappear from the advertising mix any time soon — that is if he has anything to say about it. And he will, no doubt. Larmon certainly didn’t say anything either that would indicate the train is about to speed off into the sunset.
So here we go.
With a freshly-minted agency logo in regimental shades of yellow and blue, Cavalry is about to make history with Larmon and Stock in charge. Will it be history we ultimately look back on with great satisfaction? Or, alas, great disappointment? The answer will come soon enough.
In the meantime, it’s onward ho.
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com