In this Jim Beam ad, a younger version of actor Willem Dafoe sits in an Appleton, Wis., Greyhound station and stares at two buses. (Dafoe indeed hails from Appleton.) One is bound for Milwaukee, the other, New York City. "Before long," Dafoe says above a slow, serious musical accompaniment, "the choices you make and the ones you don't become you." The ad then imagines what Dafoe's life would have been like had he boarded that bus to Milwaukee instead of New York, city of dreams. Milwaukeeans should hate this commercial: we see an aging Dafoe alone in a diner, wearing a musty sweater; in another shot, he's a trapeze artist; in yet another, he's shoveling elephant dung. He's a high-flying businessman and chess champion score two for Milwaukee or a limo driver. He's some kind of skinhead at a rave, or he's a cold fashionista. He's even a sumo wrestler. It's not that there's anything wrong with these professions. But he's not Willem Dafoe, the famous actor.
For the close, we return to the bus station. "Bold choices," Dafoe says, "take you where you're supposed to be." A young Dafoe heads for the New York bus. Dafoe, who usually plays intense characters, is an odd fit for this ad. And we're not sure what Jim Beam has to do with it. (Did Dafoe rely on some liquid courage to make his bold choice?) But we know this: "Choices" is a strangely inspiring, and wise, piece of advertising.