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No means no… unless you’re drunk.

This week, Anheuser Busch got taken to the woodshed by numerous publications for a tone-deaf piece of copy that appeared on one of its Bud Light labels:

“The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”

Functioning like Tweets these short bursts of copy or “scrolls” were created in support of the brand’s campaign, “Up for Whatever” created by advertising agency, BBDO.

To say I am not a fan of Bud light’s campaign is an understatement. Douche-y by design, this creative idea casts barely drinking age millennials as bar hopping pinballs with zero on their minds other than having A GOOD TIME!

Before going any further, I should add that I once worked on this brand’s advertising. For reasons I won’t fully get into, I loathed the experience. You might think casting bikini-clad babes in Hollywood a highlight in any young man’s career. I’m not denying that it wasn’t fun… at first. But like any binge, it became monotonous and even disgusting. Casting was a charade. For my stupid scripts, any girl would do. Frankly, the lights had been turned off strategically when the light beer category shifted from being a low calorie option to rocket fuel for party animals.

Yet, even in this hopelessly sophomoric category, “Up for Whatever” grates as much as anything out there. Ever. To me, the dumbass “scroll” about “removing the word no from the night’s agenda” is just more proof that being ‘up for whatever’ often leads to bad outcomes. Like rape charges.

That being said, the harpies digging their claws into AB have blinders on. If one is going to hate on Bud Light do so against the whole campaign not just a pimple on its ass. Any fool can see “up for whatever” is a euphemism for removing the word “no.” Why the hell do you think the brand is waving this flag if not to incite 20-somethings into acting like irresponsible teenagers (or irresponsible teenagers to act like irresponsible adults.) Splitting hairs over a specific execution is hypocritical and silly.

University profs weigh in. More context from Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/three-advertising-professors-bud-light-fiasco-326830

“Up for Whatever” continues to negatively blow up in social media: http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/bud-light-s-label-gafe-lasting-damage/298378/?utm_source=daily_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage&ttl=1431049359

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Moe's

“Wake me up when we’re cool.”

What is it about spirit’s that leads to advertising that makes fun of people? Well, I’ll tell you. Since advertisers are not really allowed to talk about the intoxicating effect alcohol has on folks copywriters are left with two options: 1) taste and 2) badge value.

How this usually plays out in the massive beer category is that crappy brews (Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc) create advertising featuring communities of young, comely and predictable partygoers, who are “up for whatever” and dig silly new bottle designs and “frost brewing” or other made up brewing techniques. Watered down taste is mitigated by the beverages ability to enable your inner douchebag. I worked on these brands and am guilty of perpetrating such goofy myths. I still remember the copy: “The clean, fresh taste won’t fill you up and never lets you down.” Quality beers like Guinnes have a better creative history, either forging terrific myths or speaking to history, heritage and authenticity. Generally speaking, spirits follow similar narratives.

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Insert blue joke here…

But within these story arcs we see an ever-widening genre, one that mocks or belittles groups of people who just don’t get it. The “it” changes all the time. When I worked on Johnnie Walker Black and Red, I created two campaigns that endeavored to define “it” for each product. For the more expensive Black label “it” was “Welcome to Civilization.” Black Label drinkers were gentlemen. Everyone else wasn’t. For the cheaper Red Label “it” was an attack on political correctness. According to my ads, these drinkers blew cigar smoke in your face and were proud to be red-blooded men. Or some shit…

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COPY: “Our drinkers are men of depth and substance. Which puts our advertising agency at somewhat of a disadvantage.”

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That’s telling ’em!

And now we see ads for various spirits taking to task “hipsters” and status seekers. This is tricky. By definition hipsters are cool. That means “it” already is a badge. But for one reason or another this particular “it” has become tiresome. Skinny jeans. Plaid shirts. Ironic beards. Fedoras. Talk about low-hanging fruit. Yet, the attack is specious. Taking down cool people to be cool makes one just as douche-y as the target, casting the hero as a hater, and haters; well they’re lame.

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Ooh, the tagline has a cuss word…

Now have a look at this new campaign, from Smirnoff.

We see the bar literally turn from bad trendy to good trendy. Huh? Other than a few more black guys and brighter lighting I can’t tell the difference between the cool kids and the douchebags. I don’t drink anymore but if I did I wouldn’t be caught drunk in either of these places. I didn’t like to drink and dance at the same time. And with that racket how could I hear myself lie?

#I’mConfused

Next up we’ll see a campaign that celebrates dive bars and sleazy authenticity. And after that one that makes fun of it.

For an extraordinary article on “Hipsters and the Dead End to Civilization” read this: https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html

PSA for Fragile Childhood

From Euro RSCG Helsinki something wicked this way comes: an extraordinary PSA dramatizing how parents, when they’ve been drinking, look to their children. As you would imagine, it ain’t pretty. The adults come off as monsters, literally.

While the ad’s concept is arguably straightforward the execution of this film is anything but. Instead of merely depicting “ugly drunks” the narrative reveals scene after scene of heartbreaking honesty, culminating in a masked killer bucking his frightened son into a car seat. (Who among us never strapped the kids into the car after consuming too much booze at a birthday party?) Also riveting is the hooded specter staring at her daughter from beyond the playground fence. It’s like she’s not there. Chilling.

A zombie walks her daughter to school, black gruel dribbling down her chin. A sickening clown staggers to the bus stop. Again, on paper this sounds facile, but watch the film. It’s riveting, and not because the monsters are grotesque but because the insight is. This commercial is scary because it’s true.

Its execution is letter perfect. The actors capture the melancholy of these fallen creatures as well as the horror. Sure, the children are frightened but so are the drunken parents. There’s a kernel of humanity still alive is these walking dead. Which I think is critical. In order for the PSA to actually work it needs to appeal to the person inside the monster. Otherwise, the alcoholic won’t identify. The fact that these drunks are still trying to do something right (fastening seat belts, taking the kids to the playground, shopping, etc.) make the portrayals truly devastating.

A damn fine campaign.


Me like beer…

One of my all-time favorite episodes of the Simpson’s is about St. Patrick’s Day. The whole town of Springfield gets drunk and stupid. More so than usual. Everyone is stumbling, puking and fighting. Even the police. Especially the police. And all of them are wearing that dumbass shade of green. Only when Bart accidentally gets drunk does Springfield’s citizenry show any concern.

When it comes to drinking, St. Patrick’s Day rivals New Year’s Eve for “amateur night.” I’d argue that given my hometown, Chicago’s ‘proud’ Irish heritage March 17th is actually bigger and dumber than Dec 31st. We dye the river green!

For me, the mandatory drinking that the “holiday” requires is annoying. As is the mob scene. By 7 PM, North Clark Street resembles Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Rush Street is even worse.

Before you take me for a Puritan, you should know for many years alcohol was one of my best friends. We went to high school together. In college, I graduated from beer to vodka. Like playing “Quarters,” beer just seemed silly. Plus it took too long to get drunk. I took drinking far too seriously to be caught dead in some Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day. Granted, I took drinking far too seriously period but that’s another story.

Anyway, I’m not a fan. That said here’s a clever piece of outdoor advertising from McDonald’s and Leo Burnett. Cheers!

Like a lot of people in the country, I’ve been thinking about two people the last couple weeks: Whitney Houston and Jeremy Lin. One died from a drug overdose, drowning in a hotel bathtub while the other is rising like a Phoenix on one of sport’s biggest stages in New York. Needless to say, his is a happy tale and hers deeply sad. But something bothers me about both stories…

With Whitney’s passing, undoubtedly from a deadly combination of Xanax and alcohol, it is the media’s unwillingness to call Houston an addict and alcoholic that vexes. Instead, the iconic singer’s demise was the result of an “epic battle with her demons” or some other popular euphemism. Like Michael Jackson before her, the media strangely refuses to call her an alcoholic or drug addict.


Singer, Icon, Alcoholic…

There is nothing “epic” about alcoholism and addiction. Like cancer, they are diseases that kill millions of people. But unlike many cancers, they are preventable and treatable. Recovery programs work, in particular Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet, the media seldom goes there. Instead, we are told that these “troubled celebrities” were in and out of rehab, whatever that means. Rehab comes off as a drying out place, somewhere to go between gigs.

It was the same for Marylyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Belushi and countless others. By definition Alcoholics Anonymous is a program of attraction not promotion. Yet, the media need not keep the facts anonymous. Sufferers of the disease would benefit knowing that they are going through the exact same thing as these “troubled celebrities” and that there is a way out. When reporters link famous overdoses to bad choices and a lack of will power, the connection to recovery gets lost in translation.


SNL riffs on Sports Center and so much more…

Saturday Night Live opened their latest episode with a sketch about the New York Knick’s phenom, Jeremy Lin. In its parody of ESPN’s Sports Center, the announcers have a field day with Lin’s Asian American roots, poking fun of his name and his race. In particular the black anchors. They relish their opportunity to liken Lin’s prowess on the basketball court to Kung Fu and chopsticks. Yet, when one of the white cast members makes a racial joke about Lin’s black teammates, everyone gets offended. It’s pretty funny and very telling.

When Lin first burst on the scene, coming off the bench to help the Knicks win five games in a row, I noticed a reticence by certain black sportscasters to jump on the Lin bandwagon. While I didn’t disagree with their analysis, I had to wonder about their hesitation and doubt. Was it more than just basketball they were talking about? I got a weird, uncomfortable vibe not unlike the feeling I get whenever the white right wing mercilessly tears into President Obama. Sadly, I think there’s more to it than meets the eye. Namely this: The white man is still threatened by a black President infiltrating their sacred corridors and the black man is similarly threatened by an Asian American infiltrating theirs.


Get it? He’s not black!

All of us –black and white alike- accept that “white men can’t jump.” In Chicago, raucous cheers go up whenever the “White Mamba,” Brian Scalabrine enters a game, usually during garbage time. Everyone knows white basketball players are passers and students of the game. The black athletes are its stars. So when this Asian kid (from Harvard) got his unlikely turn in the spotlight (in New York) that crossed a racial line that proved threatening to some African Americans.

It is a line few of us care to acknowledge, including me. If it weren’t for SNL’s ripping skit I wouldn’t be writing this at all, even though I had these thoughts weeks before. I’d be afraid of coming off as a hater.

The animus between black and white people is part of our historical record: slavery, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement. Far less talked about are the difficulties between African Americans and Asian peoples. It is a story of Asian run stores in black ghettos, of ‘we were here first’ and ‘you can’t come here.’ Both sides are culpable. Other than Spike Lee, few have addressed it publicly or in storytelling. It just is, simmering below the surface.


Picture a black player and a slice of watermelon. Still laughing?

People of color are just as capable of racism as white people. It’s not a revelation. We are all created equal and that includes our defects of character. What’s surprising, however, is popular culture’s continuing refusal to completely and fairly address racism and alcoholism.

Finally, I know these two topics are playing with fire and not particularly linked with marketing. But I am interested in popular culture and what lies just beneath it. Although I like provoking my intent is not to offend. If you feel I’m way off base please do tell. All I ask is that you state your arguments respectfully, so that I may publish them…and learn from them.