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UVa math professor enters into brew wars for the love of math

A mathematics professor who specializes in numbers theory might not be the first person you’d think of to star in a beer wars commercial, but once you talk to University of Virginia mathematics professor Ken Ono, it all adds up.

Ono is starring in a new ad to explain that Miller64, Miller’s new light beer, has fewer calories than Budweiser’s Bud Light Next. It’s all timed to today’s Super Bowl game, where Budweiser rules the beer advertising airwaves with exclusive ad contracts meaning no competitors may run ads during the big game.

At the same time, Budweiser has been touting its new light beer as if it’s the greatest thing since fermentation.

In the ad Ono is asked to settle the ponderous question of which number is lower, 80 or 64. It’s meant as a fun dig at Budweiser’s much-advertised rollout of a light beer that has 80 calories, when Miller has a lower calorie beer with 64.

Ono said he liked the fun concept but also saw an opportunity to plug something more important to him than beer – science and education.

“I’m a real, living mathematician,” said Ono. “The primary reason I did this is I wanted to talk about the importance of science and math.”

He said the producers promised him he would be able to do that. So he packed up some of his office gear, including an award he received from President Bill Clinton and several framed UVa research accolades that hung on his wall, and drove to the New Jersey set.

His office possessions temporarily adorned the make-believe office as the ad’s director wanted to recreate something akin to Ono’s actual office.

Ono had some additional credibility for the shoot, coming not only with his mathematical ability but also Hollywood credits. He was an associate producer in the 2015 film “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” about famed mathematician Rumanujan.

Ono had written a book about Rumanujan, an Indian mathematical genius with little formal training. The math professor coached actors Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons on set.

Because of Budweiser’s lock on the beer advertising, the Miller commercial with Ono will run on the metaverse and social media.

Miller is creating a virtual bar for those with virtual reality capability to hang out with others. It’s an effort the brewer has made before to get around the lock Budweiser’s parent company, AB-InBev, has on Super Bowl ads, including an ad campaign buying regional ads to compete.

For the Miller commercial, Ono only had a few days’ notice, getting the casting call on a Friday and shooting the following Wednesday, Feb. 2. Just as quickly, he was happily back at work in Charlottesville.

In addition to his producing and now acting credits, Ono also is very involved in local and UVa swimming and helping apply mathematics to elite swimming. While he hasn’t produced an ad for them, yet, he might be one of UVa’s biggest promoters.

“We love it here at UVa,” said Ono. “We feel like we were meant to be here.”


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