The effort debuted in 1995 with a spot that pictured Johnny, a big-eyed guy confessing his feelings for his father -- in the interest of getting his Bud Light. The sappy tone to start was designed "to pull people in like a Hallmark card," DDB Needham Creative Director David Merhar told The Wall Street Journal. Tacking on "man" and dad's entertainingly cynical reaction made the ad became a phenomenon, with further versions that saw Johnny confessing his insincere feelings to others.
"It just got huge," director Steve Chase recalled years later. "The actor, Rob Fitzgerald, got so much press from that ad. He got invifted by Bud Light to the Super Bowl so he was on the screen at halftime and the fans went nuts. He was on Letterman three or four nights in a row, standing behind the glass saying, 'Dave, I love you man.' .... It got to the point that Rob couldn’t walk down the street without people walking up to him and yelling 'I love you man!'"
Not only was Fitzgerald at Super Bowl XXX, he appeared in a new ad co-starring none other than Charlton Heston.
The strategy was to make consumers feel like Johnny was part of the real world, Chase said. "The conversation was always, how do we insert Johnny into the public now? We had with his dad. Now let’s put him with the public. The ultimate social primer would be to send Johnny to a Hollywood party."
Heston and Chase got on the same page during the first shot, Chase said:
We do about four or five takes. We’re reloading the camera. He says "Steven," he calls across the room, "May I have a word with you please?" He says, "Steven, you mustn’t be afraid to direct me. You mustn’t be intimidated. Just tell me what you want. I said, "Mr. Heston, I’m hesitating because I just want you to be you. I don’t want you to act." He pauses and says, "I’ve never played me before."
Heston contributed the spot's opening anecdote, the party story about the making of "Ben-Hur," Chase said.
Director: Steve Chase. Production company: Reactor Films. Director of photography: Barry Peterson.
DDB Needham group creative directors: Dave Merhar, Dennis Ryan. Agency producer: Bryan Sweeney.
BRAND: Bud Light
AGENCY: DDB Needham