Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hey Budweiser: This is what you did?

Let me get this straight:
somebody suggests Budweiser’s ad agency dig out D’Arcy’s “This Bud’s for You” campaign, immerse themselves in its strategy, its emotion, its ability to connect with beer drinkers and see if it doesn’t inspire something beyond your product-driven “Great American Lager” advertising and even breathe some new life into one of the world’s greatest brands – and this is what they come up with?
“It’s What We Do?”

I have to admit, being an old D’Arcy guy involved in that campaign, I took great pleasure seeing the headline urging DDB to “study D’Arcy’s campaign,” You know, imitation, or even inspiration, being some kind of flattery and all.
“It’s What We Do?” Actually, I didn’t think the beer was the issue. I thought it was Budweiser’s disconnect with beer drinkers that they were supposed to figure out how to fix.
I can’t imagine anything worse – in advertising - than a client telling me to check out another agency’s advertising to see how its done, but if Budweiser’s current agency could have gotten past the proverbial NIH disease, or whatever, here is what they could have learned from the classic “This Bud’s for You” campaign:

To co-opt a political rejoinder, “It’s the strategy, stupid.” The strategy behind “This Bud’s for You” was brilliant in it simplicity: celebrate the working man like only the King of Beers could do, and reward his hard work with a Budweiser. This was a direct path to connection. It was aimed at the heavy beer drinkers, the 20% of guys who drank 80% of the beer.

First of all, it’s hard to know who “It’s What We Do” is aimed at, except maybe guys who watch television. And the client. And think about this: instead of celebrating beer drinkers - one good way to connect with us - they’re actually kind of ridiculing us guys for all the stupid man-ways we’ve been greeting each other over the years, or somebodys’ fantasy of how beer drinkers carry multiple beers in ballparks (Hell, you can’t even buy that many beers at once, even at Busch Stadium, can you?), or simply dissing each other (“Hey asshole, you look like shit – but I’m only kidding.”). And then they make it worse by painting some kind of contrast that says, “But not us, we’re not that, like, shallow, or faddish, or goofy, or cynical. We’re still cranking out our beer the same way we have for more than 100 years. So what’s up with you, beer drinker?”

Besides, what is the new, ground breaking strategy anyway? We brew Budweiser the same way it’s been brewed since 1876? This has been a mainstay in Budweiser’s advertising for about a century and a half. And anyway, is this the core issue for anybody, besides the client? And the brewmasters?
Besides, beer drinkers buy the image, not the ingredients. They rationalize their choices - in focus groups - based on the ingredients, and its “quality,” or its brewing process, but nobody makes real beer choices based on rational reasons. Maybe the craft beer drinkers do (nah, maybe not), but not real, regular beer drinkers. (Bud Light has already discovered this, the hard way, with their “Drinkability” campaign). “The Great American Lager?” Without some kind of emotional context, who cares? Guys buy the beer whose label they want to sit behind at a bar. Because it stands for the kinds of things they do. Or wish they did. So you give them a “reason why” so they can justify their choices in focus groups and when they belly up to the bar with their buds, and their Buds. I mean, nobody’s going to actually admit they drink Budweiser because it reinforces their wannabe image of themselves, or their need for their friends to really really like them.

“This Bud’s for You” was an outright paean to the world’s heaviest beer drinkers. This was good business. It was only in the middle of the commercials that we suggested it was the “exclusive Beechwood Ageing process that produces a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability (there’s that word!) you will find in no other beer at any price.” The reason why. But the most of it embraced the beer drinkers we were after, in stories and music-driven montages (and the “This Bud’s for You’ music was uplifting, versatile, recognizable; it always played a major role in our advertising).
In other words: it’s about the beer drinker first. Then the beer. Connect with the beer drinker, get that right, then offer him your beer. Relate to him, reach him, humor him even; give him something to identify with. To aspire to, even. The badge to wear. Something … meaningful. Something positive.
“This Bud’s for You” took its direction from Miller, admittedly; they were the first to recognize those 20% of the beer drinkers who drank most of the beer. So we went after these guys, too. Genius! But there was a major strategic difference between “This Bud’s for You” and “Miller Time.” We were about the beer drinker. This Bud’s for You. They were about the beer. It’s Miller time. We won.

“It’s What We Do?” Same problem.

In some kind of perverse way, Bud’s new advertising actually gets the equation right: they do put the beer drinker first. Trouble is, they put him down. Maybe I’m too sensitive, but being reminded that we bro’d our way thru some goofy man-greetings over the years just ain’t gonna win me over. In life we should be able to laugh at ourselves. It’s trickier in advertising.

And one more thing, if you’re still with me and my rant: beer isn’t funny, or goofy. Beer drinking isn’t funny. It’s … cool, reparative, irreverent, satisfying, thirst quenching, rewarding, all about bonding and camaraderie. And hooking up. A good time, too, for sure; fun, but … not funny. (This was another major flaw in Bud Light’s “Drinkability” campaign). Yes, grab ass beer drinkers drink Budweiser, too, and Bud Light. But only because they aspire to be something else, like genuine Bud drinkers. Market to the real Bud/Bud Light drinkers, the mopes will come along, too.
The great DDB campaigns for Bud Light – Spuds McKenzie; “Yes, I am;” “I Love You, Man,” were beyond funny: they were irreverent, unexpected, wise guy attitudes that defied all sense of the expected.

There’s a fine line, and a big difference, between being almost funny or worse, goofy - and irreverent; between humoring yourself and connecting with your target. If I don’t like the guys in your commercials, I ain’t drinking your beer. In fact, no real beer drinker would take this kind of “kidding” in dumb silence. If some guy says, “Hey, I like your ‘stash, but where’d you dock your steamboat,” my answer is, “Yeah, and your girlfriend likes it, too. In fact she’s outside in my steamboat, waiting for me to give her a ride.”

Tim Arnold

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