Spoof spots: Bud uses 'reject' spots in viral play

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Anheuser-Busch Cos. this month launches a viral-marketing effort, which will see ads the brewer claims to have "rejected" doing the rounds on e-mail.

The spoof spots, to be updated twice a month, appear as a feature on the Budweiser.com Web site and are billed as ads "that didn't make the cut, but our hearts are too big to not give them a chance anyway."

The first "rejected" spot, from Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, done in cartoon like line drawings, tells the story of "El Generoso," a wrestler whose technique is to confuse opponents by treating them nicely. El Generoso invites the opponent into the ring, offers him a club sandwich and then some Bud. When the opponent reaches for the beer, El Generoso makes a rolling R-sound common in Spanish-language words, and floors the opponent. El Generoso uses a toothpick from the sandwich to poke the opponent into submission.

Although the jokey, child-like sketches are more like the kind of cartoons normally aimed at kids and teenagers, only Web visitors listing a birthdate indicating they are over 21 are admitted to the site. The site provides for the ad to be e-mailed to a friend, but those e-mails also require an age check to open.

`neat idea'

Budweiser's director of marketing, Andy Goeler-who said he would not call this a campaign, but just a "neat idea we put on the Internet site"-said Budweiser does not intend to use the site to push edgier ads and stressed that the online ads do not target underage drinkers. As to whether kids can lie about their age on the site, he said: "You've got to input your age," and that it's up to the user to "be truthful about it."

Viral marketing has become a popular and potent force for marketers to distribute both spoof ads like the Bud spots and real ads that are banned by the networks or, in the case of some countries, regulators.

`Kinky Bugger'

When a U.K. spot called "Kinky Bugger" for retailer French Connection's long-running fcuk campaign was banned, Omnicom's TBWA London ran a print ad directing consumers to watch it instead on the Web site fcukinkybugger.com. That unleashed a wave of spots for everything from noodles to condoms to Xbox that were deemed too racy for TV. Mr. Goeler, however, noted that A-B does not intend to use the Web to push edgier ads.

Viral marketing can also be used to skirt legal obstacles. In the U.K., Havas' WCRS reportedly was unable to get permission from Honda Motor Co. to do a spoof of the "Cog" chain-reaction spot for its phone directory service, so the agency used a viral e-mail campaign instead.

But viral techniques also put marketers at risk, say some experts. "We can control advertising [in print or TV] but when you're in the domain of one-to-one marketing ... that's when it can come back and bite you," said Ira Matathia, managing director, Euro RSCG MVBMS, who has co-authored a book on buzz marketing. He said children as young as 10 are able to skirt through the alcoholic beverage age check.

Jes Santuro, director of integrated media at Earthquake Media, New York, said studies have found an e-mail sent by a friend is 10 times more likely to be opened than an unsolicited e-mail. "It's an extremely powerful tool, but it's a long way off from being able to be compared with something like a Super Bowl spot," he said.

Other breweries are experimenting with Web-based efforts. Heineken USA recently initiated a campaign involving fake Web-site headlines and today breaks a spot spoofing beer commercials.

A-B spent $425.1 million in measured media advertising in 2002 and $153.5 million from January through April 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Budweiser was backed with $138.8 million in 2002 and $41.7 million for the first four months of the year.

Goodby executives did not return calls. Goodby shares the account with sibling DDB Worldwide, Chicago.

contributing: hillary chura

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