Bud Light’s – Real Men of GeniusPosted: July 4, 2011
Mr. Really Really Really Bad Dancer
Mr. Way Too Much Cologne Wearer
Mr. Silent Killer Gas Passer
Mr. Foot Long Hot Dog Inventor
Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor
Mr. Really Bad Toupet Weawer
Mr. Pro Wrestling Wardrobe Designer
Mr. Grocery Store Cart Wrangler
Bud Light’s “Real Men of Genius,” from DDB Chicago, facetiously saluting the world’s legion of unsung male heroes, is probably the best and funniest radio campaign of all time, and the TV spots were stellar, too. The faux-epic tributes featured great mock-serious voiceovers by Pete Stacker and over-the-top vocals by Survivor’s Dave Bickler.
Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., had the two best-selling beers in the United States in 2000 as well as more than double the market share of any competitor. The company’s flagship brew, Budweiser, remained the country’s most popular alcoholic beverage despite a decadelong decline in sales.Bud Light had meanwhile been making double-digit percentage gains in sales and was poised to overtake the ‘‘King of Beers,’’ thanks to the growing consumer preference for reduced-calorie beer. Anheuser-Busch maintained its market dominance in part by consistently setting the standard for beer advertising.
After assuming responsibility for advertising for the Bud family of brands in 1994, August A. Busch IV (son of August A. Busch III, the company’s CEO) made it a priority to update Bud’s image for a new generation of beer drinkers. Anheuser-Busch advertising, under Busch and marketing executive Bob Lachky, increasingly relied on irreverent, ironic humor to appeal to younger segments of its legal-drinking-age audience. Although radio had become an afterthought for many advertisers by the late 1990s, Anheuser-Busch continued to explore the medium’s possibilities. In keeping with the tone of a mid-1990s radio campaign and Bud Light’s consistently popular television campaigns, Anheuser-Busch unveiled a tongue-in-cheek series of radio spots called ‘‘Real American Heroes,’’ which parodied beer advertisements of previous decades. Anheuser-Busch spent a reported $4 million on the radio campaign in 2002.
The ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ campaign made a bigger splash than many believed possible for a radio effort. Renamed ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ after September 11, 2001, the campaign ran successfully for years, earning dozens of awards from the advertising industry while building a dedicated base of fans. ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ made the rare leap from radio to television in 2003. Though the television commercials were likewise well regarded, the campaign returned exclusively to radio the following year.
Extending the tone of the Heston radio campaign and directly parodying Anheuser-Busch’s own ‘‘This Bud’s for You’’ concept, DDB’s creative team singled out ‘‘regular guys’’ in overlooked jobs or with comical foibles, ‘‘people who just need to be called out to take a bow for whatever reason,’’ as agency creative director John Immesoete said, and began scripting music-based mock tributes to them. For the commercials’ sound track, DDB commissioned Chicago-based Scandal Music to compose a comically overblown 1980s song similar to the Survivor hit ‘‘Eye of the Tiger,’’ and David Bickler, who had himself been Survivor’s lead singer, was hired to do a bombastic parody of his own vocal work. After a lengthy search DDB hired announcer Pete Stacker, whose experience included traditional beer advertising, to do voice-over for the spots. The lyrics, sung in dramatic fashion by Bickler, worked in counterpoint to Stacker’s deadpan baritone voice-over, and a portrait of each ‘‘hero’’ emerged against the background of soaring music. Anheuser-Busch was uncertain, in the beginning, about the extreme sarcasm of the commercials. ‘‘But we ran them past the consumer,’’ Lachky told Adweek, ‘‘and they were a home run.’’
The initial series of 12 ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ spots attracted fans almost immediately. Radio personality Howard Stern lauded them on the air, and websites devoted to the jingles’ lyrics began appearing. Tape recordings of the spots showed up for sale at the online auction site eBay, and ‘‘Real American Heroes,’’ along with Budweiser’s famous ‘‘Whassup?!’’ television commercials (also created by DDB Worldwide Chicago), began to dominate the awards circuit. The radio commercials were likewise popular with Anheuser-Busch executives and distributors, and DDB was told to ‘‘keep ‘em coming,’’ according to Immesoete. Another 17 spots followed the original 12. With the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, the premise of mocking American heroes suddenly seemed questionable, and the spots were pulled from circulation. The campaign reemerged in early 2002 as ‘‘Real Men of Genius.’’ The continuing success of ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ led Anheuser-Busch to commission the campaign’s adaptation for a 2003–04 television run. The move was seen as risky, even though similar Anheuser-Busch spots had already aired on British TV. The spots’ success in the United States had depended, until then, on allowing the consumer to visualize the characters being parodied via song and voice-over. As DDB’s Bob Winter told Adweek, ‘‘It was hard to think of how to do it visually on TV.’’ The initial spots adapted included ‘‘Mr. Way Too Much Cologne Wearer,’’ ‘‘Mr. Foot Long Hot Dog Inventor,’’ and ‘‘Mr. Really Bad Toupee Wearer’’ and appeared on programs such as Saturday Night Live and Monday Night Football. A ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ commercial likewise made it onto Anheuser-Busch’s famously competitive Super Bowl roster, and the television campaign was, like its radio counterpart, a favorite on the awards circuit. Anheuser-Busch decided early on, however, to limit the number of TV adaptations. ‘‘Sometimes the best ideas are [best] left alone in the medium where they flourish,’’ Lachky told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The spots continued on radio. In 2004 the number of spots produced since the campaign’s inception surpassed 100, and in Anheuser-Busch’s view the potential to extend the idea was still endless.
MIDLER WAS NO SURVIVOR
DDB Worldwide Chicago originally envisioned using a Bette Midler song like ‘‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’’ for the sound track to the ‘‘Real American Heroes’’ commercials. But the rights to Midler’s songs proved prohibitively expensive, and the Midler music did not work well in test runs. DDB’s creative team began, instead, to lean toward a 1980s anthem-rock sound along the lines of Survivor’s ‘‘Eye of the Tiger.’’ The agency hired Chicago’s Scandal Music to do an original parody of that sound, and it happened that Scandal’s owner, Sandy Torano, was a friend of Survivor’s lead singer, David Bickler. Far from being offended at the suggestion that he mock someone like himself, Bickler embraced the role. Indeed Bickler had long enjoyed a career not just as a rock star but as an ad pitchman, with singing credits that included a Kentucky Fried Chicken ‘‘Finger Lickin’ Good’’ spot, a Frosted Flakes commercial, and work for Sprite’s ‘‘Uncola’’ campaign. In TV versions of the ‘‘Real Men of Genius’’ spots, Bickler was shown wearing an unflattering wig and pumping his fists triumphantly while singing. ‘‘That’s part of my role, to provide that exclamation point,’’ he told USA Today. ‘‘I get into the spirit. I want it to be as good as it could be.’’
In addition to exceeding 100 spots, the ‘‘Real American Heroes/Real Men of Genius’’ campaign earned more than 100 advertising awards. The radio campaign won the top Radio-Mercury Award two years in a row, the 2003 Grand Clio, and numerous other Clio, ADDY, Kinsale, One Show, and ANDY awards. The television campaign won a Gold Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France. Numerous websites devoted to lyrics and MP3 recordings of the commercials could be found on the Internet throughout the campaign’s run. In 2003 and 2004 Anheuser-Busch released two volumes of official compact disc recordings of selected spots along with bonus tracks of unreleased spots. The campaign was credited with raising the profile of radio advertising as a whole.
In 2001 Bud Light, overtaking Budweiser in sales for the first time, became the number one beer in America. Continuing to dominate the domestic beer market, Anheuser-Busch had approached a market share of 50 percent by 2001 and held steady at that unprecedented level in following years. ‘‘We knew we had a winner with the ‘Real Men of Genius’ campaign early on,’’ Lachky told PR Newswire, ‘‘but the popularity and longevity of the series has exceeded our expectations and provided a fantastic promotional opportunity for Bud Light.’’