BEER HERE: The debate over corporate sponsorship and rock-star product endorsements just won’t go away. We recently detailed Michelob’s ambitious campaign to affiliate itself with rock stars, saying that Steve Winwood’s current hit, “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do?,” began life as a Michelob beer commercial. Winwood manager Ron Weisner called to dispute our account. “I’ve been reading that story everywhere and it’s just not so,” he insisted. “The song was not written as a commercial--the record was done long before we had a Michelob deal.” However, Weisner acknowledged that Michelob, which had purchased an earlier Winwood song for a TV commercial, did get first look at Winwood’s new material, which Michelob execs previewed while the album was still being mixed.
Weisner seemed perturbed by recent potshots at Winwood’s Michelob affiliation, saying that some critics spent “the majority of their reviews” grouching about the Michelob banners that crowded halls where Winwood performed on tour this summer. “I even had a big argument with (rock promoter) Bill Graham, who complained about our Michelob banners at his hall,” Weisner said. “But as soon as we left, all these Miller Beer banners went up everywhere, because they sponsor his venue. Every major venue has a sponsorship deal, but you only hear negative criticism when the artist is involved.”
Weisner drew a clear distinction between artist endorsement deals--"when you see Michael Jackson re-cutting his song for Pepsi or Mike Tyson doing a commercial with the product in his hand"--and simple one-shot sponsorship deals, as he described Winwood’s relationship with Michelob. However, we wondered if the average pop fan--seeing Winwood perform in a Michelob TV commercial and headline concerts decorated with Michelob banners--wouldn’t presume that Winwood had happily endorsed the firm’s product?
“I guess you could say it’s a fine line,” he responded. “But our commercials were done very tastefully--Michelob paid Adrian Lyne a fortune to direct the spots. And I think there’s a difference between actually tailor-making the commercial and just appearing in the spot.”