Bud Light wants to do the first beer commercial that features a woman. It’s a spot about the fears of a downhill racer. I’m living in Vail, Colorado, so it’s a dream job.
I get my friend Donnie Lamson, a great freestyle skier and an expert on air (flips, twists, and stuff), to recommend a girl to do the ski stunt that is a fall that the skier in the spot remembers. We are lucky to cast a real American downhill racer, Susie Patterson, who has just retired. So far, so good.
Susie skis great and then we come to the stunt. The girl that Donnie has chosen freezes and can’t do the stunt that involves some air and then a fall, not necessarily together.
‘What’s wrong with her, Donnie?’
‘How do we thaw her?’
This shot is central to the idea of the commercial. I get wardrobe to fit Donnie into the suit (stretch material) and makeup to get a wig. Of course, the clients freak. Donnie looks really stupid squeezing a six two frame into a five foot suit with fake hair sticking out of his helmet.
The shot will be so quick you’ll never see it’s him, plus the snow will be flying everywhere.
They are still panicked.
Donnie does the stunt. The snow flies everywhere and the clients calm down.
Susie is one of the few attractive female ski racers of the time. Most looked like men, so we are blessed. Her smile at the finish line is honest and wonderful and the final cut is all we could hope for.
The problem is that the commercial never runs.
Time goes by.
I hear a great story. Mike Roarty, the Marketing Director of AB, was at an advertising conference and was challenged by a female reporter about the lack of women in AB’s advertising. Mike pulled out a cassette of the spot and played it to a standing ‘O.’
This was in stark contrast to the infamous Dinka tribesman incident with Fallon, an agency I helped jumpstart. Fallon had a marketing conference and was challenged by a representative of a women’s center because of her perception of sexism in much of Fallon’s advertising. Instead of dealing with it properly, Fallon sent her a picture of a Dinka tribesman lactating a cow’s hindquarters together with a one-way ticket to Africa, to ‘stop these practices.’ You can’t make a story like this up.
I’m watching the ’84 Winter Olympics in my home in Vail. The skiing spot plays. It’s a surprise, as I have never seen it on the air before. The phone rings.
‘Hi. It’s Susie.’
‘Hi. Don’t say a word. You’re watching the Olympics in Sun Valley with your family and you just saw the spot and it’s almost as good as winning a medal but not quite but it’s still wonderful.’
It was a wonderful moment for her but later she suffered a horrible tragedy. Susie married a wonderful outdoorsman, Ned Gillette. They were on a trek in northern Kashmir and Ned was murdered and Susie wounded in an encounter with bandits, a truly horrible event in her otherwise wonderful life. I had lost touch with her by then and heard of the event years afterwards from a mutual friend. I never knew what happened to her after that, but I think of the special experience of the commercial often.