News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

December 8, 2011

MARK BENNETT: Ferrell’s love of Old Milwaukee shines light on Old Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — Will Ferrell didn’t walk through traffic at Seventh and Wabash for nothing.

Well, actually it might have been for nothing. Apparently, the comedian just likes Old Milwaukee so much that he came to Terre Haute, unannounced, one morning last September to film wacky commercials for the beer. Local folks watched in amusement as Ferrell strolled through the busy Crossroads of America intersection from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. that day. Ferrell and his film crew politely engaged a few people, but gave no hint about what they were up to.

Now we know.

Sort of.

Watch video here: http://youtu.be/rFswRDkEP6g

On Tuesday night, astute Hauteans spotted Ferrell crossing Wabash Avenue in a 30-second ad for Old Milwaukee that aired on cable television channels such as ESPN and the History Channel.

“He was right in the middle of the intersection,” said Stacey Rodriguez, a nursing student at Harrison College in Terre Haute.

Rodriguez saw the commercial almost by accident. She rarely watches the History Channel, but a show caught her interest and she decided to stay with it. While casually viewing sometime between 10 and 10:30, she heard Ferrell’s voice utter the words “Seventh and Wabash” and focused on her screen. She recognized Ferrell’s attire in the ad — the cheesy polo shirt, khaki shorts, tube socks and sandals — from Facebook photos snapped by downtown workers when he came to town on Sept. 13.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh. We made it on national TV,’” Rodriguez said, with a laugh.

While the cameras were rolling in September, onlookers eavesdropped on Ferrell’s lines and overheard him say he was at the Crossroads of America and that it was a great time for an Old Milwaukee beer. Hauteans familiar with the hectic early-morning traffic at Seventh and Wabash probably would not consider that a prime moment to crack open a beer, except perhaps for Indiana State University students doing ‘The Walk’ on Homecoming. But that’s irony, and that’s why the absurd premises of movies such as “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” have made Ferrell so rich and famous.

He’s apparently wealthy enough to film beer commercials without being a paid spokesman for the brewing company.

Ferrell’s comedy website FunnyOrDie.com produced at least six ads filmed in Terre Haute, Davenport, Iowa, and Milwaukee. About one week after setting up the cameras in Terre Haute, Ferrell caused a similar buzz in Davenport. According to the Quad City Times, he spent several hours in one Davenport bar, shooting segments with locals. But when three ads based in Davenport began airing last month in that eastern Iowa town, they instead showed the actor swimming, fishing and “hand fishing” in the Mississippi River, and analyzing the large, white letters of a welcome sign that spells D-A-V-E-N-P-O-R-T.

Why Terre Haute? Why Davenport? Why is he doing this?

“Will approached Old Milwaukee because he’s a big fan of the beer and thought it would be fun to make the commercials, and we couldn’t be more excited that he did,” Bryan Crowley, chief marketing officer for Old Milwaukee’s parent company Pabst Brewing, said in a statement issued to the Tribune-Star. “Will wanted to film these in good Old Milwaukee towns.” Pabst apparently did not hire Ferrell.

How did we become “a good Old Milwaukee town?” Well, beer helped build this city, although it really wasn’t Old Milwaukee — a brand that most Hauteans more likely recognize as sponsors of Saturday afternoon pro bowling coverage in the 1960s and ’70s. Still, in a town that once housed the seventh largest brewery in America, cranking out Champagne Velvet, it’s reasonable to assume the long-forgotten Old Milwaukee brand also had a loyal following here.

At the outset, Ferrell’s Terre Haute ads will only be shown in the Terre Haute area, and the Davenport ads around the Quad Cities.

“For right now, these spots were created for the local markets,” said Pabst co-owner Daren Metropoulos in another company statement issued to the Tribune-Star. “We do hope people enjoy them as much as we do.”

Ferrell’s mission sounded almost artistic, according to Metropoulos. “Will Ferrell was interested in developing something unique, and we allowed him to pursue his creative vision and produce these spots with a local vibe,” Metropoulos said.

Who knows — maybe Ferrell’s Terre Haute spots will go national in a month or two … say on the first Sunday in February? After all, people normally don’t stand in the middle of a busy intersection or swim in the Mississippi for nothing.

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