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This Pabst Blue Ribbon beer commercial was crafted in the early 1980s, a period when bodybuilding was rapidly gaining popularity and recognition. The ad’s producers had the intention of featuring Frank Zane as their lead, but they faced the challenge of creating a captivating narrative within the confines of a 30-second commercial spot. They needed a storyline that could build anticipation and resonate with the audience, something they could rally behind.
However, they faced a dilemma. Could the average viewer truly connect with a scenario where a man in a thong wins a competition by out-posing other thong-wearing men? It seemed like an unlikely proposition. To make the commercial more accessible and comprehensible, they decided to shift Zane’s role from a seemingly narcissistic bodybuilder to a weightlifter focused on lifting heavier weights overhead. The concept was straightforward: the person who lifts the heaviest weight emerges as the winner. No extensive knowledge of bodybuilding or repeated viewings of “Pumping Iron” were needed to grasp the essence of the competition.
As a result, Zane was portrayed as a dedicated weightlifter who had incidentally achieved a Mr. Olympia-level physique while training for weightlifting contests. This angle made his character appear far less vain and more relatable to the general audience. Even four decades later, it raises the question of whether a serious commercial could be effectively centered around a guy winning a bodybuilding posedown. The choice to use weightlifting as the backdrop allowed the commercial to capture the competitive spirit and excitement more universally, making it a wise decision for the time and even prompting a reflection on the viability of different commercial themes today.