The spots are being pulled in response to protest from representatives of the Italian-American community. In the commercials, Frank Vincent (“The Sopranos”) and his sidekick, Mike Starr (“Dumb & Dumber”), play mobsters who offer a store clerk and bartender “protection.” The employees tell them “no thanks,” because they have all the protection they need with Miller Lite’s taste protector lid. Italian music plays in the background, and the actors wear the typical Mafioso attire. The commercials were created by Chicago-based ad agency DraftFCB.
"We seem to be the last breed in America that ad agencies think they can take a shot at," said Lou Rago, founder of the Italian American Human Relations Foundation of Chicago. On Monday, Rago and Anthony Baratta, the Chicago-based national chairperson for the Commission for Social Justice, had a conference call with MillerCoors executives. Initially, the beer company agreed to run fewer “Protection” commercials. But when Rago and Baratta threatened a national boycott of Miller products by Italian-Americans, the executives agreed to pull the ads within a week.
The controversy hit headlines on Wednesday, June 3rd when the Chicago Sun-Times broke the news. Frank Vincent received a Google alert notifying him about the article, and felt compelled to offer his side of the story. “I think both of these groups should have a better sense of humor,” Vincent told the Sun-Times. “The humor is there in the commercials, and a lot of people were enjoying the work.”
Vincent also went on The Roe Conn Show on WLS AM Wednesday afternoon to discuss the controversy with Roe Conn. When asked if he was perpetuating a stereotype, Frank said he didn’t think so, “Because it’s a character, I’m an actor. I’ve played good guys, I’ve played cops, I’ve played bad guys. I’m acting.” Vincent said.
Frank argued that the mob is not just synonymous with Italian-Americans. History has proven that many different ethnicities have all run organized crime outfits. He wonders why these Italian-American organizations have singled out the Miller Lite commercials. “How about Bugsy, how about all the gangster movies in the 30s and 40s, when they depicted all the original gangsters that came here. The Jews, and the Germans, and the Irish…this argument can go on forever and ever.”
Vincent and Starr both star in the soon-to-be released film “Chicago Overcoat”, filmed by local film production company Beverly Ridge Pictures. The movie also stars Armand Assante (“American Gangster”), Kathrine Narducci (“The Sopranos”), Stacy Keach (“Mike Hammer: Private Eye”) and local actor Danny Goldring (“The Dark Knight”). Vincent looks forward to returning to Chicago to attend the film’s world premiere later this year.