Nothing poisonous about Bud's lizards

By Published on .

Advertiser: Anheuser-Busch
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Ad Review rating: 3 stars

This eventually will be about Louie the Lizard and Budweiser beer, but first two brief observations about Joe Camel and cigarettes:

1) Anybody at R.J. Reynolds who claims to be surprised by children's fascination with the character is a moron or a liar.

2) Anybody who believes anything the tobacco industry says--including "Hello" and "Goodbye" and "Looks like rain"--is just a moron.

Much debate and the entire Federal Trade Commission have been focused on whether minors are the intended targets of Camel advertising. Why? It makes zero difference whether minors are the targets. Advertising is not a rifle; it is a shotgun, and any campaign featuring outdoor boards of a cartoon animal inevitably will catch children in the spray.

Reynolds makes a specious comparison of Joe Camel to the Energizer Bunny, as if some double standard were at work. There's no double standard. Batteries are not carcinogenic.

The correct analogy is "The Simpsons," an adult show filled with gags completely beyond the reach of anyone under 18. But Bart Simpson was an instant hero to millions of kids from toddlers on up--because, like Joe Camel, he is a smart aleck, and because, like Joe Camel, he is a cartoon. Watch any child when a cartoon image comes on TV; it's a moth to flame. And R.J. Reynolds knows it, and has always known it, and when they start mouthing their line about smoking as an "adult decision," may they choke on their lying tongues.

So now that big tobacco is finally being held accountable for abusing its free speech rights to put children in harm's way, along comes Anheuser-Busch and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners with another animated animal to pitch Budweiser beer. Are they out of their brewing minds?

Answer: probably not.

Oh, they'll probably take some flak on this. The lizards, like the frogs, are certainly animated. And kids may like them. But that's where the similarity ends. Louie and Walter are not cartoons. They're computer-animated, as realistic looking as the frogs, and simply not the same magnet to childish sensibilities that Joe Camel is. What they are instead are a couple of Queens-accented reptiles jealous of the frogs' Bud-ad gig.

Walter: "Louie, frogs sell beer. That's it, man. No. 1 rule of marketing."

Louie: "The Budweiser Lizards. We coulda been huge."

Walter: "Hey, there'll be other auditions."

Louie: " Oh, yeah? For what? This was Budweiser, buddy. This was big."

This self-referential joke, which plays like the Miller Lite campaign to the supposed media hyperawareness of Generation X, will elude more minors than it will impress. As a whole, it's hard to see how this spot is any more compelling to kids than the average babes-in-a-bar scenario.

Here you must look at even the loathsome likes of R.J. Reynolds with some sympathy. Tobacco peddlers and breweries alike are selling a legal product to people who make brand decisions at an early age. To reach a 21-year-old in his vernacular it's hard not to catch 17-year-olds in the spray. It is therefore unreasonable to create a standard of zero tolerance for imagery that might interest minors. The proscription should be against imagery especially inviting to minors.

Using that standard, the lizards are relatively benign. It's actually surprising how endearing they are, and how objectionable they are not.

Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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