Instead, the sniping reflects the creative tension between the brewer's rival Omnicom Group shops -- DDB Worldwide, Chicago, known as the "mother agency" on the $350 million account, and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Both are in the hunt for more assignments for flagship Budweiser.
In the latest assault, Goodby's Louie the lizard takes on DDB's popular "Whassup?!" campaign. In one of three spots airing during the National Basketball Association finals on NBC, Louie accuses the "Whassup?!" actor of stealing his "tongue moves" while type appears on the screen asking, "Coincidence?"
In another spot, straight-lizard Frank declares Louie's "Whassup?!" interpretation a "new low." And in a third, Louie pressures Frank to try saying "Whassup?!" Once Frank tries, Louie says, "You stink, that's Whassup."
Goodby's lizards in earlier commercials tried to assassinate fellow swamp dwellers, the Budweiser frogs (which D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, created and DDB later inherited). Also in an earlier round of spots, Louie spoofed DDB's "heritage" campaign featuring August Busch III and his son by showing off his own lizard ancestors.
Publicly, both agencies view the sniping as friendly sibling rivalry.
"It's respectful homage" to DDB's work, said Jeff Goodby, principal and co-creative director at Goodby.
Bob Scarpelli, chief creative officer-U.S. at DDB, called Goodby's work "fun" and "a joke on a joke." He added, "At the end of the day, the customer doesn't know or care."
But some said Mr. Scarpelli was angered by Goodby's latest antagonism and wants the spoofs to stop. "That shows how petty it can get," said an executive familiar with the situation. Mr. Scarpelli flatly denied he's upset.
Still, like kids kicking each other under the table, the squabbling continues.
"At the lowest levels -- from art directors to copywriters -- they all want their work to be produced by the company that does not pinch pennies when it comes to producing a good idea and has the ability to place it on the best media outlets in the country," said a former A-B adman. "As you move up the ladder, the rivalry diminishes on a day-to-day basis, but there is intense competition at the highest levels of the organization when big strategy changes occur."
One longtime Midwest agency executive, in a remark worthy of Louie himself, claimed the lizards' mouthiness at DDB's expense is actually a way for Goodby to keep the lizards relevant. "If anything, it's an attempt to keep the lizards fresh by having them participate in Budweiser's hottest marketing property," he said.
The rivalry cuts in other ways, too. Another former DDB executive said while at a New York ceremony honoring August Busch IV, he saw a competing Goodby planner sip a Heineken. He suggested the planner put the offending brew aside, which he did seconds before Mr. Busch strode over. "As soon as I said that, I wished I hadn't," he said. "It would've been great to see August frost the guy."
Bob Lachky, VP-brand management at A-B, said the one-upmanship produces better creative, while helping to fight off imports and stabilize sales.
"A little competition is healthy and makes the cream rise to the top," he said. "The best stuff is the stuff that winds up on the Super Bowl," he said of his annual storyboard contest about to kick off next month.
In fact, he gave credit for the brand's success to his own department, noting, "Here, we have the vision for the brand."
Mr. Lachky also is unconcerned about the agency rivalry. "They're all owned by the same holding company and they're all getting rich off each other."