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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Flipping through magazines the other day, I discovered a new print ad for yet another Anheuser Busch beer product, this one called Black Crown -partly because it is made with caramel malt and partly because, I suppose to the brewery, it sounded cool.

When coming across new ads, I tend to read the body copy and this one was no exception. Take note of the following sentence. “Toasted, chosen and handpicked by the loud the savvy and the famous.” Huh? What the hell does that even mean? On a literal level, the first three verbs confuse because they are identical to language used when describing the process of making beer. Here, however, it means something else, perhaps far worse than brew-making clichés. Finish the line. Take a look at those three adjectives: “loud, savvy and famous.” If that’s not a definition for “douchebag” I don’t know what is.

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Ripped body copy not in good taste…

Loud? Are they kidding? Since when is being loud indicative of good quality? And how on earth does it juxtapose with savvy? Oh, I know. When you’re famous. Like the Kardashians.

I hate this copy so much. Not only is it attitudinal and hyperbolic but it flags poseur for both the beer and the drinker. Having worked on advertising for AB and Miller Coors, I know firsthand the client is either oblivious to this vulgarity or, in truth, encourages it. They’ve spent billions of marketing dollars cultivated the poseur alpha male and made beer after beer just for him.

Savvy plan: “Maybe if we’re louder we’ll get famous!”

Here’s my take on what Black Crown is really saying: Dude- If you’re a backward-baseball cap wearing, collar popping white male who thinks he’s a player this is the beer for you! Show you’re frat buds that you’ve most def arrived by paying 75 cents more for a bottle of beer. Black Crown tastes like Guinness, only stupider!

I get it. AB wants guys to think drinking Black Crown is a privilege, like getting into the VIP room at some awful nightclub. Fine. But if loud, savvy and famous is the new definition of quality then we are in big trouble.

Official beer of the VIP lounge!

Something rubs me the wrong way about Budweiser’s lavish “End of Prohibition” commercial, which first ran on the Superbowl. Not the idea, which I like. But the tone. Beer did not save America from sadness. It’s a libation. Not a cure.

The idea is based on a true story, which the commercial tells us via title card. I believe it’s the bit where the iconic Budweiser Cleisdales deliver a shit-ton of beer to a just re-opened bar. Cool. Like I said, a good idea.

Where the commercial goes awry (in my opinion) is in tone and manner. Its swaggering demeanor comes off as hokey and forced, further dramatized by a blatantly heroic musical score. None of this surprises me. The agency and client undoubtedly went for a War Horse look and feel. And why not? Both stories are period pieces. Both stories feature horses.

But the ball, albeit well hit, goes foul of the pole. Consider these images: The dusty can-opener lifted off an unused bar. The guy in mid-shave forgetting to towel off. A newsboy rushing through the street shouting at the top of his lungs: “It’s over! It’s over!” Chill out Phidippides.

Even the super rankles: “Prohibition denied Americans BUDWEISER for 13 years.” The biggest word in the sentence is the client’s name. Hmmm. The other nouns seem like they should be more important. And couldn’t AB get off their high horse and state the fact that it was alcohol prohibited to Americans, not just Budweiser?

Beer is good. And this is a good story. But this commercial is a might drunk on its own hubris.

Winning despite all the naysayers

In 2011, the advertising agency, Mcgarrybowen became the AOR on Burger King, Sears, United/Continental and just the other day, Bud Light. Hard to believe they could top last year, when the agency also won more than its share of big accounts. While most advertising agencies have struggled –with new media, with the recession, with themselves- Mcgarrybowen has thrived. And they’ve done so without employing creative superstars or the attention grabbing pyrotechnics so coveted by their peers. And now they are seemingly without peer, having beaten in pitches most every Madison Avenue juggernaut and the creative powerhouses alike.

They have their haters. The trade blogs and comment strings are dripping with malevolence. Mcgarrybowen’s people are “old.” They are “hacks.” They do the kind of “traditional” work that gives “advertising a bad name.” “Conservative to a fault,” they do only what “the client wants.” They suck.

And yet…

Without big names in the corners or big trophies in the lobby, Mcgarrybowen wins every pitch they are in. And it’s not like they’re going after small fry. Blue chippers are as hard to come by as Blue Marlin, but their hulls are full of them.

Haters point at their creative product, saying “meh.” But this can only be construed as jealousy, or elitist scorn. Sort of like when film students deride Hollywood for making mass-appeal films instead of art. True, I can’t think of anything sensational they’ve done from a purely creative perspective but since when has advertising ever been made from a purely creative perspective? Besides, Burger King had “sensational” work. The kind of work that put them in the so-called “conversation.” Maybe the client just wanted good advertising.

Mcgarrybowen understands that this is a business, and like any business these days, budgets are shrinking and people are scared. Whether creative purists like it or not, big marketers want big ideas that are safe. That usually means showing the product and people enjoying it. Push the envelope a little but not off the table. It seems the agency will gladly forsake Gold Lions at Cannes for fat coiffers in New York and Chicago. And because of this they are the comfortable choice for CMO’s, over and over again.

John Mcgarry. Dinosaurs rule!

Theirs is an old school approach and one in which I wrote about when the agency’s winning streak began. Since that post they’ve won United/Continental and Bud Light. Those are the two biggest brands in two of the biggest categories on earth.

Tebow-like isn’t it? Against relentless criticism, all they do is win. I know several men and women at Mcgarrybowen here in Chicago. I “came up” with some of them at Leo Burnett. They will tell you there’s nothing magical behind their success. Just hard work, due diligence and a knack for listening. Whatever it is, it’s a great story. More power to them.

Which brand are you cheering for?

March Madness. It is a sportsmen’s paradise. It is a bettor’s paradise. It is a cultural phenomenon. While not a global stage like the Superbowl, also known for its array of world’s greatest commercials, the NCAA basketball tournament does offer a look at branding in a unique and pure form.

Seventy-two teams are vying for one National Championship. While only a dozen really stand a chance of getting it, anything can and occasionally does happen. Typically, a few higher seeded teams make it to the “Sweet Sixteen” with one or two reaching the “Elite Eight.”

The brackets, as they are called, are also a fine Petri dish for looking at brands. Each of these competing schools is a brand, featuring a pedigree, product name, and a track record. For the serious fan, myriad other factors come into play but for the sake of this discussion let’s just look as those three: name, pedigree and record.

These criteria resemble any given product available in the marketplace. For example: Bud Light is from Anheuser Busch and is the number one selling beer in America. The Buckeyes are from Ohio State and are the number one team in America.

Both are elite brands, with huge awareness in the marketplace. For better (and I suppose worse), both define America to a “T.” They each bring over 100 years of tradition, pedigree and position. We recognize the names and the colors and logos. With Bud Light and the Ohio State Buckeyes we know what we’re getting. The brands deliver on their promise. The other number one seeds (Duke, Pittsburg and Kansas) can just as easily be compared to the other most popular beers (Miller Lite, Coors Lite and Budweiser)

Where it gets interesting is with the challenger brands, the middle seeds if you will. Certain craft beers and imports occupy the mid-level and are often replacing one-another in these positions. Heineken and Corona might be four and five seeds, with Amstel Light an aggressive sixth. Likewise, in the basketball tournament we have Florida and Wisconsin and an aggressive newcomer, San Diego State. One can debate exact positions, throwing in other brands, and people do. In this light March Madness and the Beer Wars have much in common. But brackets can be assigned to any brand category (from automotive to cereal) and they often are.

As we go down the teams in the tournament we see all manner of brands, from up and comers like North Colorado to the once great Michigan State. And that’s where it gets fun. For most casual observers, here it really is about pedigree, name and record. Beyond all the babble from experts, we assess these teams on their brand image alone. “Wow. They did pretty well in that region and their uniforms kick ass.” It’s a lot like seeing a new product in store or on TV. “Wow. My friend told me about this. Looks like something I’d like.”

Whether or not there are branding lessons in this, it sure is fun. For the record, though I went to the University of Wisconsin, I also dig the Richmond Spiders. Their logo is awesome!