When Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer bantered about having the "biggest caucus in the country" during Bud Light's politically themed Super Bowl ad, several media outlets observed that this was very likely a penis joke.
Now, there's been an official finding on the matter from a beer industry trade group. Ruling on allegations that the ad violates beer marketing guidelines because it was lewd, the Beer Institute has cleared Anheuser-Busch InBev of any wrongdoing. The organization's response was contained in a recently released report by its code and compliance review board:
"If interpreted literally, of course, the use of 'caucus' in this ad simply would refer to the size of the expected contingent for the Bud Light Party—suggesting that the party will be large because it consists of fans of the nation's best-selling beer. But even if the ad were interpreted in the manner [the complaint] suggests, it would not be 'lewd' or 'indecent' in violation of Guideline 5(a). From the perspective of a reasonable adult consumer of legal drinking age, the mere use of a sexually suggestive pun would not be seen as 'vile,' 'inciting to lust or lechery,' patently offensive, or offending recognized standards of good taste. The use of sexually suggestive jokes is commonplace in programs intended primarily for adult audiences."
As an example, the Beer Institute cited Donald Trump and the widespread media coverage earlier this year of the presidential candidate defending the size of his hands.
The Bud Light ad kicked off the brand's ongoing "Bud Light Party" campaign by Wieden & Kennedy. It includes the following exchange: "We've got the biggest caucus in the country," Mr. Rogen says. "But it's not like too big, like you can handle it," quips Ms. Schumer.
The complaint directed at Anheuser-Busch InBev is by a man identified as Robert Westcott. "This is a 'cock' ad plain and simple. It degrades the brand and the industry," he argued, according to the Beer Institute's published summary of the case. The Beer Institute allows members of the general public to raise complaints about beer ads. The group did not release biographical information about Mr. Westcott, citing privacy policies.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, an A-B InBev spokeswoman stated in an email: "We are pleased that the CCRB ruled in Bud Light's favor after a comprehensive review of this complaint. At Anheuser-Busch, we take our role as a responsible marketer seriously and have rigorous processes in place to ensure our advertising complies fully with all guidelines and principles of the Code."
The Beer Institute maintains a lengthy ad and marketing code for its member brewers. It includes a section stating that advertising and marketing materials "should not contain language or images that are lewd or indecent in the context presented and the medium in which the material appears." Under self-regulatory rules, members of the general public can make complaints directly to brewers. If left unresolved, complaints can be taken to the Beer Institute's code compliance review board.
In its report, the Beer Institute defended the Bud Light ad as appropriate because it "contained no nudity, violence, or profanity. And to the extent that the terms 'lewd' or 'indecent' encompass more than that, the ad also does not contain anything that is patently offensive or that 'violates recognized standards of good taste.' "
The trade group also noted that 82% of the Super Bowl audience was comprised of adults of legal drinking age, which exceeds the Beer Institutes threshold of 71.6% for ad placement.
"The use of sexually suggestive jokes has even been commonplace in the specific political races occurring during this year's Super Bowl," the Beer Institute added. As an example, the trade group in its report linked to a CNN article entitled "Donald Trump defends size of his penis."
The group also referenced a 2014 episode of "Live with Kelly & Michael," in which Kelly Ripa made jokes about the size of the new iPhone. The report linked a Huffington Post report on the episode, which quoted the following exchange:
"Do you have anything on you that might indicate what 5.5 inches looks like?" Ms. Ripa asked her male guest. But when shown the approximate size of the iPhone on a ruler, Ripa wasn't impressed. "Well that's very underwhelming," she said. "Is this the extra large? I want the extra large."
The Bud Light case was included in the Beer Institute's Code Compliance Review Board report covering the period 2014-2016. The Bud Light Super Bowl ad was one of only two complaints fielded by the review board during the period.
The other complaint involved a Bud Light Super Bowl ad from 2014 called "Epic Night" by BBDO. The spot was shot in hidden-camera style and featured the brand surprising a man with a celebrity-filled night out.
The complaint alleged that the spot contained multiple code violations, including that it "implies excessive alcohol consumption in a moving vehicle." The Beer Institute again sided with A-B InBev, saying the ad "fully complies with all of the guidelines and principles" of the ad code and that the complaint "does not state proper code violation."