If a commercial's success can be measured by the number of underage dorks who quote it feverishly, then few have done better than the original ads for Miller Lite. Indeed, like many who weren't able to touch harder stuff in the late '70s, my grade school friends and I engaged in our own heated battles about whether one should drink milk because it "tastes great!" or because it was "less filling!"
This mind-expanding debate began in 1977, the year Miller hit on the idea of getting tough guys like Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn and NBA referee Mendy Rudolph to argue over the girly product, light beer. The instantly popular campaign soon became a de facto pension plan for a stable of retired sports figures. A typical spot: on-again-off-again Yankees manager Billy Martin squares off against Yanks owner George Steinbrenner on the taste/waist issue. More memorable were the occasional alumni ads that rounded up the campaign's stars, including Bubba Smith (above left), Dick Butkus (above right), Larry Csonka and Bob ("I must be in the front row!") Uecker.
It wasn't uncommon in the early '80s to attend a sports event and get involved in a reenactment of the ads. If one section of the stadium shouted "tastes great!" another had to muster a louder "less filling!" As much as I liked the spots, I discovered something about truth in advertising once I was able to legally sample the beer in '91—the same year the ads disappeared. I found that Miller Lite tasted only so-so and didn't stop me from developing a beer gut.