Downtown Partners’ Bud Light campaign a true classic

It's a warm summer day, and it's time to write about Bud Light. In fact, it's long overdue.

It’s a warm summer day, and it’s time to write about Bud Light. In fact, it’s long overdue.

The Bud Light beer campaign is not just good. It is not just deserving of all the awards it carries off. It is, though nobody seems to have dared say this before, one of the top 20 or 30 best advertising campaigns ever.

But what the hell, it’s only Canadian. Before it gets elected to sainthood, maybe Anheuser-Busch should consider running it in the U.S.

It’s very tough to do great beer advertising, partly because there’s so much of it.

There are lots of cute individual spots, and some very nice regional ads (Kokanee does nifty stuff in B.C., and thanks, New Brunswick’s Alpine, for bringing back Spot) but long-running, powerful big-brand campaigns are pretty rare.

I can think of three on this continent in a half century. The first was for a Brooklyn beer called Piels, featuring the animated Piel Brothers, Bert and Harry. Harry was the introverted, quality-obsessed brewmaster, Bert was the loudmouth sales guy with a lot of flashy dumb ideas. The campaign was so popular that Piels actually ran tune-in ads on the TV page of the New York Times when they rolled out a new spot.

Like most good advertising, Bert and Harry succeeded in getting people to try the beer. Unfortunately, the beer sucked. Piels sales rocketed, then declined, and Madison Avenue’s three-piece suits got to go around saying ‘See, humour doesn’t work!’

The second great beer campaign was for Miller Lite, back when ‘light beer’ was still not a manly thing to drink. Miller turned that right around, with a superb campaign featuring washed-up jocks (real big-name retired stars) standing around in pubs shooting the bull about beer. On the surface, the arguments were about ‘Tastes Great’ versus ‘Less Filling’, but that wasn’t what the ads were about, any more than the Piels ads were about Harry’s quality control. They just happened to hit male bonding squarely on the nose; the prospect wanted to be in the bar with those funny macho superstars.

In our more cynical age, Bud Light has struck the male-bonding chord in a whole new way. There have been thousands of campaigns based on ‘Joe and the Boys’ out drinking beer, but Bud Light has been the first to take that premise a step further. Their campaign dares to recognize the following:

In order to drink beer in the presence of men, it is first necessary to evade the presence of women.

This is very risky territory. First of all, it is highly politically incorrect, and second of all, there are many bean counters out there ready to tell you that women drink about 20% of the beer and if you alienate them in your advertising you are condemned to the fifth circle of hell.

Bud Light chose to ignore all this, went confidently ahead, and proved once again Burghardt’s Eleventh Law, which is, You can do damn near anything as long as you do it well.

Bud Light evaded all the pitfalls. They did not make the men in the commercials into useless stumblebums. They did not make the women in the commercials into long-suffering sensitive creatures with massive intellects. They simply took outrageous premises of men evading women, and then underplayed it for all it was worth.

The result is a series of commercials that is genuinely funny, and contains a consistent and empathic idea. The 24-hour figure-skating channel, to occupy pub-widowed women. The attic cannon, to speed the enforced weekend housecleaning chore.

And my personal favorite, the Bud-created availability of rental Vikings, to eliminate the tiresome problem of family reunions.

Then they’ve incorporated it all into a public-service organization called the Bud Light Institute, and they’ve created movies and CD collections…in fact, they’ve parodied just about everything our society holds dear, with that same savage straight face.

It isn’t all equally good – ‘Goldenball’ tries much too hard – but when it is on key, it is wonderful.

I actually look forward to every new Bud Light commercial. Maybe they should start running tune-in ads.

John Burghardt’s checkered resume includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING * CREATIVE THINKING.’ He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com.