Budweiser remakes ‘Whassup’ for the stay-at-home era
Budweiser is bringing back its iconic “whassup” campaign, but is repositioning it for the coronavirus era.
A new ad breaking today shows retired hoops stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on a video chat, joined by the WNBA’s Candace Parker and DJ D-Nice. Wade’s wife, actress Gabrielle Union, then appears before they all begin a chorus of “whassup!”—just like the original ad that first aired in 1999 and became a pop-culture force.
But while the old ad set the standard for silliness, the new version weaves in a serious message. Wade and Union are shown asking if their friends are “staying safe.” The spot ends by plugging a new emotional and spiritual care hotline, established by the Salvation Army, aimed at providing a reassuring voice for people who are feeling lonely or fearful during the pandemic.
The ad was shot using Zoom with Budweiser agency VaynerMedia handling the production. The concept came from the brewer's in-house agency, known as draftLine. A second spot will be released later this month. The Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned brew will also run daily promotions around the campaign. For instance, on Thursdays Budweiser will host “whassup” live chats featuring celebrities answering fan questions, Budweiser in hand. On Mondays, the brand will give away “whassup” merchandise.
While the original ad was known for its slapstick humor, Budweiser wanted to dig a “layer or two deeper” into the “whassup” message, which is about the “simple connections between friends,” says Budweiser Marketing VP Monica Rustgi. “That is really what made this undeniably the moment to bring this up.”
The spot will primarily run on digital. But AB InBev also got donated TV time from Fox and Sling TV; the streaming service will run the ad in some local markets during ESPN’s “Last Dance”10-part documentary series about the Michael Jordan-era Bulls.
While the ad carries a social good message, there is some branding: Wade, Bosh and Parker are all shown holding the beer. Instead of saying “watching a game, having a Bud”—the dialogue in the original spot—the hoops stars say they are “re-watching a game, having a Bud”—a reference to the fact that there are no new games on TV right now.
Rustgi says the brand was careful to not overdo the branding in the spot: “The ‘having a Bud’—that is paying a nod to the original. We were very choiceful about that, too. We didn’t want to do that too much. So if you compare this to the original you are going to see those elements have been dialed back and that was intentional. But still, you have to pay respect to the original.”
She adds: “Now is really not the time to advertise. Now is the time to provide utility and safety. That is a clear, governing rule we are abiding by.”
In March, Bud released an ad called “One Team” that put the spotlight on frontline workers battling the pandemic, including healthcare professionals, researchers and Red Cross volunteers. That spot, from David, came as the brand announced it would redirect $5 million that it normally spends on sports and entertainment marketing to the American Red Cross.
The original “whassup” campaign (see one of the ads below) came from DDB Chicago. It was based on a short film called “True” by Charles Stone III that featured friends and their unique greeting. Bud ran one “whassup” ad in the 2000 Super Bowl. The campaign went on to spawn parodies and win awards, including a Cannes Grand Prix.
Bud has brought back elements of the campaign before. In 2018, the brand allowed Burger King to use original footage of the ad to introduce a new burger. The fast feeder’s King mascot was shown crashing the ad at the end. Earlier this year, Budweiser in Canada remade the ad, replacing humans with smart speakers.
But Rustgi says the new campaign represents the most significant reincarnation of the classic campaign in the U.S. “It’s an advertiser's dream to create a piece of creative that almost falls out of their own hands and becomes owned by culture,” she says. “Whassup at one point just became part of culture and it was no longer Budweiser’s.”
“When you have a campaign that does that, you have to be very mindful about when the brand decides to bring it back,” she adds. “It had to be the right moment—and this was it.”