GARFIELD;LOOKING LIKE COOL ANT-ITHESIS OF PREVIOUS BUDWEISER WORK

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Long, long ago, when the Ad Review staff was a teen-ager and heavily into Super 8, we devoted a solid month to producing a 3-minute animated film. It was about ants walking across a kitchen counter hauling a crumb of bread.

So, no, it wasn't what you'd call action/adventure. Or drama. Or comedy. It was basically .... well, ants.

But it took forever to do, in very painstaking, frame-by-frame cel animation. So you can imagine our excitement when finally we finished our masterpiece and entrusted it to the folks at the drugstore for processing. We were crazy with anticipation when a week later we got it back, threaded it into our projector and, in stunned silence, viewed 3 incredible minutes of total strangers waterskiing.

This ended our career in filmmaking. But it never blunted our interest in ant-related cinema, so we were especially heartened to see the delightful debut of DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, on the Budweiser account. The 100% copy-free commercial is a 30-second look at .*.*. well, ants.

Animated ants! Animated ants lugging not bread crumbs across a counter but an entire Bud longneck along a landscape. The spot opens with a thumping tribal drum beat and occasional rhythmic grunt as background to a stationary shot of the horizon. Then an ant appears-a point-ant-scouting for his comrades, who by and by appear in the frame. They are hoisting a bottle of Bud.

Eventually they reach their anthill and tilt the bottleneck underground. Then the bottle jerks as we hear the cap being removed. Then, boom, from the subterranean party we hear K.C. & the Sunshine Band: "Do a little dance .... make a little love ..... get down tonight." The ground shudders to the beat as the beer glugs out of view.

What a debut for DDB Needham on a brand D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, had handled for decades, alternating among sweaty guys in hardhats, babe-acious women slinking through impossibly fun bars and large horses with hairy-hoof disorder. Back then, who'd have thunk it? A Bud commercial that is cool and wonderful. Riveting and clever. Understated and wry.

If Ed McMahon were dead, he'd be turning in his grave.

Granted, only two weeks ago in this very space a campaign for Amstel Light was excoriated for being cool and clever at the expense of communicating brand distinctiveness. But cool is precisely what utterly undistinctive Bud needs to be. It continues to lead the non-light premium segment on the strength of working-class loyalty and 1,000-pound gorilla distribution, but among young beer drinkers-i.e., the most important audience-it has all the cachet of Spam brand canned pork-related meat product.

The croaking Bud-wei-ser frogs (D'Arcy's swan song) were a magnificent start in cultivating youth, but this brand has a long way to go. While one could say the ants actually constitute classic Bud advertising in dramatizing the beer reward for hard work, that's hardly the point. And it's not as though Anheuser-Busch is trying to increase brand awareness among crawling insects. If they wanted to do that, all they'd need to do is buy radio spots on G. Gordon Liddy's show.

No, the point here is extremely cool ant-imation. It's a vast improvement over bar scenes and dopey jingleism. And, take our word for it, it beats the heck out of waterskiing.

Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy e-mail at EFPB35A.

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