Anyone who grew up watching the Super Bowl from the ’90s to today is likely familiar with Budweiser and Bud Light ads. Budweiser and its related brands have had an exclusive contract for national beer ads that run during the Super Bowl since 1987, according to PRI. Today, perhaps the most famous (or infamous) Super Bowl commercial featuring Miller is a Bud Light commercial mocking Miller with medieval knights delivering corn syrup to Miller Castle.
But in the ’70s and early ’80s, Miller was just as much of a Super Bowl commercial presence as Budweiser. From celebrity-backed messages to musical numbers, Miller had it all during its short run of Super Bowl ad spots; it even regularly featured famous former athletes and football coaches. And judging by the quality of those ads (especially for the era), there’s an argument to be made that if Miller had more opportunity to air Super Bowl commercials, then everyone who watches the game for what’s on TV between the action would win. There are only so many beer-toting Clydesdales one can watch, after all.
These are the best Miller High Life and Miller Lite Super Bowl commercials, ranked from worst to best.
"Eddie Rabbitt in Concert"
Before there were crossover country pop stars like Morgan Wallen and Florida Georgia Line, there was Eddie Rabbitt. Rabbitt made his name first by writing songs for the likes of musicians like Elvis Presley, and then became a pop country star in his own right. And with that pop country stardom came big beer money and a spot in a 1981 Super Bowl XV ad.
The commercial shows Rabbitt as he wraps up a show in front of a screaming audience. As he stops playing, he waves to the band, and says, "OK guys, it’s Miller time." He continues singing, "When it’s time to relax, one beer stands clear," as he walks past fans and pours himself a (very foamy) Miller High Life from the bottle. It’s all big smiles and glorious ’80s fashion as the music ends with the classic Miller jingle, "If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer."
It’s admittedly unfair to judge Super Bowl commercials of the past on the same scale as today’s big budget extravaganzas. Still, even by early Super Bowl commercial standards, the Rabbitt ad comes off as uninspired. It has all of the feel-good vibes that sells an attitude instead of a product, but it lacks anything that sets it apart from a commercial that would run on any other day. In short, the ad lacks anything that sets it apart as a Super Bowl commercial rather than your run-of-the-mill TV spot.
Miller was still trying to convince everyone that light beer (or lite, if anyone from Miller challenges you to an on-brand spelling bee) was cool when Super Bowl XIII rolled around in 1979. The brewery started Miller Lite in 1975, and though it wasn’t the first light beer in the world, Miller was the first to take light beer mainstream — and the first to put it on TV during the Super Bowl. The only problem is that professional athletes couldn’t be in alcohol ads, according to AdAge. So the suits at Miller went with the next best thing: former professional athletes.
In the Super Bowl commercial, Norm Snead, who once played quarterback for the Eagles, Charley Johnson (Cardinals), and Terry Hanratty (Steelers) scheme out positions using Miller Lite bottles rather than Xs and Os. As a bonus to those in Pittsburg who got to see their former quarterback shill for a less filling, under-100-calorie beer, Hanratty’s Steelers beat the Cowboys that year 35 to 31.
The commercial, however, is less exciting — some might even say forced, thanks to plenty of "hey, that’s my beer" antics. Still, you have to commend Miller for being a trailblazer and convincing all-star athletes to get on camera and shuffle bottles around a table all in the name of selling low-calorie beer.
In 1985, the year of Super Bowl XIX, comedian Rodney Dangerfield was at his peak. His catchphrase jokes about being a guy with no luck who gets no respect launched him into super stardom. It also made him the perfect candidate for Miller Lite ads, apparently — the Rodney Dangerfield fan site notes he appeared in 20 light beer commercials over his lifetime.
In the 1985 Super Bowl commercial, Dangerfield talks about how he "finally found a beer I can respect." The reason why? Miller Lite’s famous "less filling" tagline. "In a place like this I’ve got to move fast," he says in the commercial, regarding the closing bar he’s in. "I can’t afford to get filled up."
The premise works with Dangerfield’s public persona. Light beer was still looking to earn the respect of the beer drinking public at the time, after all. Still, it’s difficult to pull off stand-up style comedy in a 30-second ad spot while still hitting the taglines; Dangerfield’s joke in the commercial about a tough hat check woman named Dominic falls flat. But hey, you win some and you lose some in the game of one-liners, even when you’re a comedian as talented and loved as Dangerfield.
There are few names in football as big as John Madden. Younger generations may know him best for the Madden NFL video games, or perhaps from his days as the color announcer on Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football. Before all that, however, Madden was the famous, Super Bowl winning coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Miller capitalized on Madden’s reputation and antics for a series of Super Bowl commercials after Madden retired from coaching in 1979. One of those antics was taking the train or bus to away games rather than flying; many said it was because he was afraid of flying. In this 1984 Super Bowl XVIII commercial, Madden claims that he was never afraid of flying — he just likes taking the train because it’s the perfect time to drink Miller Lite.
"Rolling through the Rockies or across the Midwest, Lite’s less filling and it tastes great coast to coast," Madden says in the commercial as he walks about a moving train, drink in hand. "That’s why I take the train." Then the lights cut out, and you hear Madden exclaim, "Hey, what happened to the lights?" as if he’s scared of the dark as well.
The ad has everything that make a commercial entertaining: a reference to a well-known, real-world fact; a relevant celebrity figure; and a self-depreciating, light joke at the center. It’s not the best Miller Super Bowl commercial (or even the best one featuring Madden), but it’s not bad either.
"Welcome to Miller Time"
Miller kept it simple for Super Bowl XVII in 1983. Rather than go for a brand-name celebrity or all-star former athlete, the company went with a jingle. And it worked.
"Welcome, to Miller Time," a singer belts over bouncy music as people take down their sail, close the shade covering their bar window, and wash off their work boots. "It’s all yours, and it’s all mine. Bring your thirsty self right here, you’ve got the time we’ve got the beer for what you have in mind. Welcome to Miller Time."
Finishing work, kicking off your filthy clothes, and hitting the bar for a Miller with friends — it’s a strong showing that the champagne of beers is for the everyone. Plus, the song just makes you smile. Miller made numerous jingles based around Miller Time. The concept was created by Bill Backer, the same guy who made Coca-Cola‘s "It’s the Real Thing" and "Hilltop" commercials, as documented in a brand history. "If You’ve Got the Time" Miller commercials were first used in the ’70s and were adapted from there for both High Life and Miller Lite. The jingle used in the Super Bowl commercial is faster and more upbeat — percent for the in-between moments of a game.
The days of a good jingle that lacks gimmicky or goofy affects have long gone. Miller’s Welcome to Miller Time ad is simple, to the point, and sounds best when you have a High Life in hand.
"Not the same"
During the same 1981 Super Bowl XV that Miller ran the Eddie Rabbitt commercial, Miller ran another, much better ad as well. It featured John Madden, and like the Madden-Miller ads that came later, the commercial played off of Madden’s antics he was famous for while coaching the Oakland Raiders. This time, it referred to Madden’s coaching tendency to angrily pace the sideline.
"I’m not the same crazy coach who used to storm the sidelines yelling at the officials. I’ve learned to relax and I drink light beer from Miller." Shortly thereafter, he stands up and throws his arms around while speaking at an increasingly loud volume. "And listen to this, Lite doesn’t fill me up. Besides that, Lite tastes fantastic. Oh sure there are lots of other beers around and you can drink any one you want." It trails off for a bit with Madden still ranting in the background until the finale: Madden busts through a Miller poster and yells, "As I was saying, I don’t care what anybody else…"
Like Madden’s other Super Bowl commercial, this one plays off of his reputation in a humorous and self-depreciating way. It’s a solid joke that doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to be funny while still getting the message across about Miller Lite. That’s a balance that even the most highly paid advertising execs can’t hit.
Getting on all of the screens of people watching the Super Bowl became near impossible for Miller after AB-InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, purchased the exclusive beer advertising rights in the late ’80s. Miller found a workaround, though: airing local TV spots instead of national ones. Sure, the local spots lack the reach of the big time ads that companies shell out ungodly sums of money for. But a Super Bowl ad is a Super Bowl ad, whether it’s local or national.
In 2009, Miller was short, sweet, and to the point with its local commercial — literally. The entirety of the commercial is a Miller worker screaming "High Life!" while standing in front of cases of beer and a giant Miller flag in a warehouse. Being made in the 2000s, this commercial also had an accompanying set of "bloopers" of other things the worker could yell in one second.
That’s all that’s needed. Miller is already a national brand that people know and love. A quick (OK, very quick) reminder that the brand is still around simply puts the beer in front of your mind. The commercial also adheres to the every person reputation that Miller has been building on for decades by showing a worker in his standard uniform in a largely unadorned warehouse. This commercial is a prime example that sometimes the best Super Bowl ad isn’t the most star studded or heavily produced.