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In an otherwise flat beer market, sales of Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light exploded in 1995. Marketing Director Jim Schumacker's response: "I love you, man."

Four simple words that worked their way into the American vernacular began inauspiciously for A-B, Mr. Schumacker says, as an afterthought to another Bud Light commercial shoot by agency DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago.

"We had an extra half-day built into the shoot, and we got this idea for the character," says Mr. Schumacker, who loved the proposed idea and approved it immediately.

His investment paid off: Johnny, the spots' seemingly sensitive New Age guy who's just jockeying for his family and friends' Bud Light, was an instant smash.

Actor Rob Roy Fitzgerald wound up doing his Bud Light schtick on NBC's "Today Show," CBS's "Late Show with David Letterman" and even ringside promotions at boxing matches.

Across the country, beer consumers mimicked his ubiquitous phrase and bought more of his brand, lifting Bud Light sales 10.4% for the year and building its share to 9.7%, from 8.7% in 1994, according to industry newsletter Impact.

"Our goal was double-digit growth," he says, "and we surpassed that in sales and volume." A-B so far is repeating these goals for Bud Light this year.

Mr. Schumacker, 43, calls himself A-B's "utility infielder," as he's handled many brands in his 15 years with the company.

"Developing characters like Dr. Galazkiewicz"-or, rather, the young impostor who made "Yes, I am" a popular catchphrase in 1994-"added punch to the campaigns and made them more relevant to consumers, who could touch and feel individuals and talk about them," he adds.

Feelings of love between Johnny and Mr. Schumacker are mutual: A-B is keeping its pitchman indefinitely. But Johnny's not getting Mr. Schumacker's Bud Light.

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