CHEYENNE, WY—The Milwaukee, WI-based Miller Brewing Company, well-known for extolling the responsible enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, has been calling, writing, and visiting Kevin Helvinski to encourage him to think before he drinks.
"Miller has made responsible consumption of alcohol for those of legal drinking age one of our primary advertising messages," Miller representative Daryl Milburn said. "We are concerned, however, that Kevin Helvinski of 21 Post St. has not been paying attention to our friendly magazine ads, TV commercials, and point-of-purchase pamphlets."
Miller representatives launched their campaign to encourage Helvinski to assess his alcohol-consumption habits in January, when Helvinski was spotted at the Cloud Nine Lounge vomiting into a urinal.
"Our products should enhance life, not cause our customers to embarrass themselves in public," Milburn said. "Our company has a rich and storied history that dates back to 1855. We thought if Kevin knew a little more about that history, he might remember to slow down and enjoy the great taste of our high-quality beer."
After finding out that Helvinski often watches Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Miller bought airtime from Cheyenne's NBC affiliate KCHY and began running a series of commercials featuring sepia-tone photos of Miller Brewing Company founder Frederick J. Miller. Unfortunately, the ad had no discernible effect on Helvinski, who continued to drink three to four nights each week, often failing to heed the recommended limit of 12 ounces per hour.
"We at Miller began to worry that Kevin's dead-end job at an RV-supply store and the many nights he spent out at the bars with his friends might be connected," Milburn said. "Well, when the TV ads didn't get through to Kev, we realized he needed some individual attention."
In late January, Miller sent four e-mails to Helvinski, each reading, "Know when to say when, Kevin Helvinski." Helvinski's drinking did not show any change.
"After our e-mail campaign failed, representatives from the company started to call Kev on Friday and Saturday nights," Milburn said. "We tried not to be preachy. We'd just suggest that he might want to check out a movie instead of hitting the bars. Basically, we wanted to make Kevin aware that there are lots of ways to have fun that don't involve drinking. Alcohol is best consumed in moderation, as one part of a full and healthy life."
Unfortunately, this campaign also failed, and Helvinski continued to drink to excess.
"We needed to hit him at the point of purchase, so we started to put up friendly little notes in strategic locations, such as on the beer cooler at the gas station near his house," Milburn said. "The notes said things like, 'Use your head when you go out drinking tonight, Kevin.' We also put signs up above the urinals in Kevin's favorite bars, with the simple, black-and-white message, 'Haven't you had enough tonight, Kevin?'"
When this campaign failed, Miller sent a representative to Helvinski's house "to tell him we'd rather lose him as a customer than as a human being."
"We didn't want him to become a statistic," Milburn said. "Sure, we're making a little bit of money from Kevin's drinking, but none of us here want to profit at the expense of a customer's well-being. Make any company in America choose between a million dollars and a customer's life, and I don't think a single one of them would take the money."
Milburn said this is not the first time Miller has used such a narrow campaign.
"We'd do the same thing for any one of our customers," Milburn said. "And we have. When we thought drinking was hurting Tempe, AZ resident Megan Litvin's relationship with her husband, we took her out to lunch to talk about it. We suggested Michael Sumner of Atlanta go to AA rather than do further harm to himself, and now I'm his sponsor."
"When you climb behind the wheel of a car after you've been drinking, it's like you're playing with a loaded gun," Milburn added. "We're just like the manufacturers of guns: The safety of our customers is our number-one priority."
Reached at home, Helvinski responded to Miller's concerns.
"I'll admit that I drink too much sometimes, but it's not like I do it every night," Helvinski said. "I don't need the Miller people following me around. I'm totally fine."
"Well," Helvinski added after a long pause, "I guess I have been going out a lot since my friend Tyler moved back to town. Maybe I could stand to cut back a bit."
Miller Brewing Company is the second-largest brewery in the U.S., with seven major breweries located across America. Principal beer brands include Miller Lite, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Genuine Draft Light, Miller High Life, and Milwaukee's Best. More information is available at millerbrewing.com.