Tag Archives: wassup

It’s coming up on the tenth anniversary of this campaign. Mother of God, how times flies!

The Wassup! Campaign for Budweiser kicked ass even beyond my wildest dreams. And my wildest dreams were pretty wild.

I remember meeting Cliff “Where’s the Beef?” Freeman at an industry “top ten best ads of all time” party in New York in 2003. We both had ads in the top 10. Both were famous catch-phrase based ads. He said something that resonated with me. He explained “I didn’t want to be ‘the guy that did that one thing’ ”. I can relate. Wassup! is a bit of a bête noire as they say in Belgium. But a great one!

At the time some ad people doubted my claim that I had a vision for this. and that vision was pretty much what happened: America screaming “Wasssuuup!”. I never understood that. Why is that so inconceivable? Is it that unimaginable that someone might actually know what they’re doing in advertising.? If only I had, oh I don’t know, some proof that I did. Well it turns out that I do actually.

Recently I unearthed this document. My partner Chuck Taylor (real name) and I put it together late in 1999. We were a bit bothered and worried that although the Budweiser client had nominally bought the Wassup! idea, there was comparatively less action on our idea than other ideas bought at the same time. We were still waiting for the money to be released.

I feared they’d had second thoughts. And I feared that those second thoughts were based on the racial makeup of the proposed cast. I was wrong about that.

So I suggested we create something that implied that the train was rolling. And present them with the idea again. Real professional like!

So we created this presentation. Note the date. A month and a half before the first spot aired. I was close to despair!

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And here was my impassioned plea to resell the idea. I meant every word. And it pretty much came to pass. Phew!

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And here was Charles Stone’s treatment. The “RAY” he refers to was the role he ultimately ended up playing so wonderfully himself. At this point I figured acting and directing might be too much pressure for him. I was wrong. He was perfect. He was a star.

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I was so desperate to get the campaign done that I erroneously assumed that there was no way Budweiser would run ads featuring an all African-American cast. Their previous campaign featured cute and funny frogs and lizards. Call me crazy! So here I dangled the possibility of a multi-ethnic cast. Because I knew we would have to do at least some casting anyway. Turned out it was very hard to say ‘wassup!” correctly. We ended up with the original cast of Charles’ friends. Plus two new friends of his. Chemistry!

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And this was the first script that I wrote to sell the idea. Has there ever been a less interesting sounding commercial script? I recall being really bored just typing it out.

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You can see the short film the campaign was based on here.

And this is the finished product. If you compare the two you’ll see how faithful we were to the spirit of the original short. We Just sped it up and added beer really.

The end of an era. Bob Lachky leaves Anheuser-Busch.

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You know all those Budweiser and Bud Light ads you’ve loved over the years?  Well the man largely responsible for overseeing the creation of all of them – Bob Lachky – has left the brewery.

It is no exaggeration to say that I, and many other ad folks, owe our careers to Bob’s good judgment and steady nerves over the years.  If Bob liked your ad it very probably got done the way you wanted it to get done.   There were no nervous, interfering clients on Budweiser shoots.  They trusted us to get it done.  It wasn’t unusual to have no client at all present on a shoot.  I actually didn’t like that because I would end up trying to play client and annoy everyone in the process.

Ad geeks might be surprised to know that Bob started out as an account guy on Bud Light at DDB.   And was later hired by August Busch III to supervise the various A-B ad agencies output.  Bob’s somewhat senatorial demeanor could be misleading to the uninitiated.  He had surprisingly great creative and executional instincts.  I hesitate to tell the following story because it makes me look slightly bad, but here goes.

At the pre-production meeting the day before we shot the original Wassup! Ads, Bob asked me why the tagline at the end of the scripts read “This Bud’s for you”, their tagline at the time.  I uncertainly replied: because…it’s…your…tagline…Bob.

The short film we based the ads on was called “TRUE”.  And that word fluttered briefly on the screen at the end.  Bob, correctly, felt the ads in our campaign should end with that title too.  So we did that.  And I’m glad we did. It just felt right. I didn’t think it made that much difference at the time but it did as the campaign took off and ultimately became known as the TRUE campaign.

I’m not sure what Bob’s plans are.  I think he should write a book. I told him that the last time we met.  Write a book Bob!  There.  That should do it.

And so l hoist a beer-clean pilsner glass of Bud (poured down the middle to release the carbonation, natch) in his honor.   Here’s to you Mr. Great Beer Commercial Getter on the Air Guy.

Good luck Bob, and swing by The  Escape Pod next time you’re in Chicago.

How to sell alcoholic drinks

The recent revivification of Wassup! has made me nostalgic for my beer advertising days. I, and several other Escape Podders spent years working in that category. Personally I loved it. And not just because I got to drink a lot of free beer. OK, that was part of it, but it was also great fun selling fun. And on a big scale. For many years Superbowl season – half the year basically – was our focus. Win the Superbowl! At all costs!

I was also attracted to working in the category because I’m good at it and I know that i’m good at it. How do I know I’m good at it? I spent my formative years working in a very busy pub in Ireland. And in that time I got to learn a a huge lesson first-hand: you have to create the right environment, the one that induces drinking. that’s the whole trick.

For example, the pub i worked in had carpeting everywhere. just like your house does. it had comfortable seating. just like your house does. but your house doesn’t have a bar in it. and it’s probably cold and windy and raining outside anyway. so staying in the pub wins, going home to your house loses!

But the interesting thing about the pub – The Lion’s Tower, so named because it stood near a tower of the same name in the old medieval city wall – was that it started out as a terrible pub.

The owners had a vision of the kind of bar they themselves would like to drink in. And that vision was upscale. The bartenders wore waistcoats and bow ties initially. Inoffensive muzak played quietly in the background. And it worked. The pub attracted people like the owners. Middle aged middle class couples out for a drink to get away from the kids. The only problem was they drank f**k all. maybe six drinks between the two of them all night. and as you can imagine, it was crushingly boring to work there. there was no action.

After a couple of excruciating and not very profitable years like this, it dawned on the owners that young Irish people drank a hell of a lot more than their parents. Ireland had inherited England’s stupid World War One licensing laws. all pubs shut before midnight. consequently people (young irish people!) were drinking against the clock. and boy could they drink! it was pure insanity.

so out went the bow ties and waistcoats. and in came much better and much louder music and cool lighting. same comfy furnishings. and boom! the place went nuts. the legal drinking age was 18. but it was loosely enforced. suddenly, we had to hire bouncers to keep order. the scent of your dad’s cologne was replaced by the occasional pungent whiff of hash. we were selling hundreds of kegs of beer a week. we would get through a hundred kegs of guinness alone. each keg with ninety pints in it. 100 x 90 = 9000 pints of guinness alone each week. one year we went through ten thousand pounds worth of pint glasses alone. this was back in the ’80s. that was a lot of money and a mind-boggling amount of broken pint glasses.

This place was hopping like I’ve never seen since. you’d think we were giving it away. there were two bars in the pub. A straight up long bar against a wall and an oval bar. I favored working the oval bar. because the place was so packed it felt like you were on stage. Everyone desperately vying for your attention. and we were the fastest bartenders in town. to this day it irks me to see a bartender take just one customer’s order at a time. we would do three orders at a time and fill them at the same time in the most efficient manner possible. to stay hydrated we drank southern comfort and coke.

And because I was in my teens, and it kind of happened in slow motion, over years, it made a huge impression on me. we went from being a dead ghost town to being the biggest hit pub in a town with a lot of really great pubs. For example, there was a pub down the road called “The King’s Head”. It was the oldest pub in town. It got its name because the original owner was the guy who actually chopped King Charles III’s head off. That pub, and exile to ireland, was the executioner’s reward. Hence the name. There are lots of English pubs that have that same name. but this pub earned it the hard way. by chopping off a king’s head. that’s hardcore good pub heritage. that’s tough to compete with.

Soooooooooooo…years later, when i finally got the chance to do a tv ad for beer, i came preloaded with the real-world knowledge of what it takes to sell a lot of beer: you create the right vibe, it happens.

Maybe not unsurprisingly, the very first bud light commercial i created was a big hit — no bow ties or waistcoats to be seen! and it was named best beer spot of the year by Ad Age. i was back selling beer again. albeit on a much bigger scale than The Lion’s Tower. and the Lion’s Tower was a very busy pub. so that’s really saying something.

The enduring appeal of sticking out one’s tongue and shouting “Wassup!”

It’s back.  I guess enough time has passed for the culture to have gotten over its Wassup! overdose in 2000.

The latest viral video charts show Wassup2008 at number one and the original Budweiser Wassup ad climbing up the charts at number 11.  Oh dear!

I can remember emerging slightly shell-shocked from the editing suite after we filmed the first Wassup! spots.  I’d listened to the phrase constantly for a week and was understandably heartily sick of hearing it.  So when people would come up to me and tell me, months later, how sick they were of hearing the phrase, i would nod politely and, in my head, go “Tell me about it pal!”.  I was arguably the first Wassup! burnout.

Like anything that is conspicuously successful, the whole Wassup! pop cultural phenomenon was written about and analyzed endlessly by the media at the time.  I recall being surprised about how blase i had become about being interviewed about the same thing over and over and over.  Lots of writers pointed out how the spots were great representations of male bonding etc…etc.

But for me the thing that made the whole thing work was much more basic.  And it was this.  When you screamed Wassuuuuuuup! a little bit of nervous energy left your upper body.  And you actually felt slightly better for saying it.  In much the same way that saying “IS NICE!!!” Borat-style is slightly cathartic.  It’s the same principle, physiologically speaking.

Go on, try saying both catchphrases.  You’ll feel better!