People are still screaming "Whassup?" Howard Stern samples the spots; David Letterman references the spots. It's probably impossible to calculate the free exposure and good will it has generated for the Budweiser brand.
What is creativity? Tom Carroll, president of TBWA/Chiat/Day in Playa del Rey, Calif., once told me Lee Clow said the definition of "creativity" is "receptivity." A couple of guys see a short film and say: "This would make a great Budweiser ad." They turn the film into an ad, consumers loved it, sales went up and the brand won. Consumers didn't know the spots were lifted from a short film. They didn't care. Why should we?
IT'S NOT GEOMETRY
Don't overthink it. Recall Bill Bernbach's letter of resignation to Grey Advertising about 50 years ago. To paraphrase it, "Research is all well and good, but advertising is in essence the art of persuasion. It's not calculus; it's not physics; it's not geometry. It's art." Now that wasn't word for word, but you get the picture.
Many of our colleagues don't. And so we see work out there so overthought and overresearched and so strategically on target it not only goes over the heads of the consumer, it completely circumvents their hearts as well. Bottom line: Whether we, as advertising professionals, choose to believe it, charm works a lot better than the quadratic equation when it comes to brand advertising.
I love Arnold's work for Volkswagen, but how can Mr. Graham compare brand advertising meant to re-launch a beloved cultural icon that costs about $18,000 with brand ads for a package good that sells for a few bucks and hasn't changed in more than a hundred years? You can't say those VW ads don't benefit from the look and emotional cachet of the new Bug.
On the other hand, the "Whassup?!" work did one of the smartest strategic things you can do for a pretty much non-evolving brand like Budweiser; it "de-familiarized the ordinary."
A ton of consumers climbed back on the Clydesdale-drawn bandwagon because Budweiser chose to meet them halfway: It chose to be interesting to them and, better yet, interested in them. It took a leap of faith that it could talk to the consumer in the context of Bud's brand values without having to recite, define or discuss the literal heritage and authenticity of the brand (where there's really nothing left to talk about and, even if there were, the conversation still wouldn't have been as interesting).
What kind of advertising is the truly great advertising that builds brands for the long term? At the crux of Mr. Graham's criticism is his assertion that this work doesn't say anything about Budweiser and therefore doesn't do anything for the brand. He's wrong.
BRANDS HAVE VALUES
Products have attributes and brands have values. That's just the way it goes. The "Whassup?!" campaign is a brand campaign. It never mentions hops or barley or "born on" dating. But that's OK. Those things aren't brand values; they are product attributes. The values the spots do celebrate are friendship, the joy of an inside joke, the notion we would all rather be doing nothing with our pals then be doing something with someone else. While those things have nothing to do with beer making, they have everything to do with beer drinking.
Budweiser the brewery makes beer, but Budweiser the brand loves beer. By virtue of this campaign's message, Budweiser the brand loves beer for the same reason its consumer loves beer -- any beer: Because it is fun to drink while hanging out with friends, laughing and breaking balls.
Anheuser-Busch recognized it shares a common link with the consumer, mutually exclusive of the product it manufactures. And in so doing, Budweiser engaged the consumer on a level more akin to friendship than commerce, and therefore did, by definition, truly great advertising that builds brands for the long term.
Mr. Lupinacci is a free-lance writer and art director, formerly with Wieden & Kennedy, New York.