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If you watch any sports on TV, then you have seen Windell Middlebrooks.
He’s the actor who plays the Miller High Life deliveryman, neatly positioned as the champion of common sense for the ultimate regular-guy beer brand. He is everyman’s everyman, so detesting trendiness that he removes cases of the beer — “Taking back the High Life” — from places where he feels it shouldn’t be sold, like an upscale bistro with the audacity to charge $11.50 for a burger (“Y’all must be crazy!”) or a stadium skybox, where the glassed-in patrons are so oblivious to the game that they don’t know what inning it is.
It has worked out well for both parties. MillerCoors’ internal data showed gains at wholesale for High Life of 1.8 percent for 2007 to 2009, while Nielsen supermarket data shows a 1.1 share point lift since the late-2006 debut of the campaign, created by Crispin Porter and continued when Saatchi & Saatchi got the account in 2007.
“When the campaign launched, people were being judged by how big their house was and how much bling they could amass,” said Miller High Life brand manager Joe Abegg. “Windell was able to call out the BS, and that’s what really struck a chord.”
Meanwhile, Middlebrooks’ career has rocketed. Aside from filming 19 spots for Miller since late 2006, he has become a regular on Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life on Deck” and appeared in other sitcoms, including HBO’s “Entourage.” He has done more than 120 personal appearances, and been to countless sports venues, running out of the tunnel at Notre Dame, throwing out the first pitch at baseball games, and singing the national anthem at Chicago White Sox, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings games.
Talk about living the High Life.
While doing paid appearances for Miller, Middlebrooks wears his regulation High Life-logoed shirt. But now 19 ads in, the public doesn’t need it to identify him.
“Everybody across America knows my big head by now,” he laughed, during a break in the filming of “Body of Proof,” a new ABC prime-time medical mystery in which he has a lead role.
“Being part of something that represents the everyman is really cool because that’s where I come from,” said Middlebrooks, who grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, with a family that poured and built concrete structures for a living. Today, Middlebrooks is a model of unpretentiousness, and is as skillfully paired with a brand as any spokesman.
“I’m really a lot like the character,” Middlebrooks said. “They offer me suites at games, and I want to sit in the crowd. To be able to mock the shi shi/la la out here [in Los Angeles] is just a lot of fun, because I’m in the home of shi shi/la la.”
Working as a temp at a PR firm, Middlebrooks got called at 11 a.m. in late 2006 for a 2 p.m. audition for the part. The only instructions were to dress like a working man, so he went home and put on some Dickies. Three call-backs later, he had the role.
Middlebrooks’ favorite ad was one of the first, a spot in which he asked an emasculated maître d’ to “step aside, mon ami,” so the High Life could be removed: “Someone’s about to lose their selling High Life privileges.”
Nearly four years later, the character is a pop culture fixture, and Middlebrooks is a living embodiment of the 103-year-old brand’s target consumer. Consequently, this is an enduring campaign in an era of disposable marketing.
Middlebrooks said he will shoot three more ads in the series this fall.
“As a spokesman, sometimes you’re just a face that goes by on a screen, but these are more like mini sitcoms,” he explained. “I’m not just holding the product and smiling. People are getting the message, but when I think about where I came from, the truth is that it took a lot of everyday hardworking people to get me to where I am now: in Hollywood, playing an everyday, hardworking person.”
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.