March 26, 2000
What's the deal with these BUDWEISER ads (caution: 2 meg download!!!)? Can you picture "WHASSUP" being the catch phrase of a nation?
Ever since I met up with the Internet about six years ago, I've shied away from watching hours of mindless television. However, I always seem to stay in touch with trends in advertising. Given my interest in the field, and my expansive collection of subliminal ads that I used to collect (perhaps I will scan them and post them some day), I should have headed down that road, and probably would have if it weren't from the deep emotional scars left by my high school marketing teacher!
You see, he couldn't appreciate the parody of a beverage by the name of ROADKILL SPILL. Red, like TAHITI TREAT, but marketed as a "gross-out" drink, ROADKILL SPILL would have featured a logo of a car swerving over a dead animal on the side of the road.
In bad taste, sure, but not unmarketable. After all, several companies have gone the "gross-out" route. Just look at that "candy snot", the Garbage Pail Kids fad, and the Chinese, for coming up with GRASS JELLY DRINK (for those of you who haven't enjoyed the privilege of hanging around a Chinese convenience store and been tempted by this curiosity, just imagine cubes of Jell-O and ground grass in a can of Coke, and you get where I'm coming from).
Okay, so thanks to that, I'm no marketing guru, but that doesn't stop me from wondering WHASSUP with these "WHASSUP" guys that Budweiser is featuring in their latest ad campaign. It doesn't take much to amuse drinkers of mainstream beers (look at the bad songs in the slew of Coors Light commercials that have aired in Canada for the past couple years). Just give 'em a catch phrase (or, in the case of Molson, include free hats in cases of your beer, because everyone knows that beer connoisseurs have no time for hair-brushing when the beer store's closing in ten minutes) and they'll be lured in. As sure as Old Milwaukee drinkers are that "it really DOESN'T get any better than this", mainstream beer buyers are sure to love any marketing campaign thrown their way.
Don't get me wrong. Not all beer campaigns are terrible. Labatt's actually started churning out good commercials for their mediocre Blue brand when they featured Blur's "Song 2" as an anthem (even before the Buffalo Sabres used it as their goal-scoring anthem) to a motley crew of hooligans racing through Metro Toronto on grocery carts. Brilliant ad! It's no wonder that, even with the laughable "don't try this at home" disclaimers, the ad was yanked. Of course, the theme of shopping cart racing surfaced in a Volkswagen ad only a couple months later and didn't cause nearly the uproar that the Blue spot did.
I could go on for days about the genius behind advertising, but I'll just get straight to the point. For those of you who haven't seen the new Bud ads, they go a little like this:
Four twentysomething-ish black men call each other on the phone and say "Whassup?". "Nothin'...just chillin', watchin' the game, havin' a Bud." With the catch phrase "Whassup" comes a sticking out of the tongue near the end of the exclamation.
You get the picture. There ain't much more to it, Vern. Four guys who say "Whassup" and are regularly "chillin' and watchin' the game".
Remember when beer companies once pretended that beer drinkers were outgoing, ambitious sorts who took on sporting challenges, camped in remote locales, and arm-wrestled with Joe Piscopo?
Now it doesn't take much more than a "Whassup" to start what may very well be this year's most successful ad campaign. For those of you over the age of 20, I'm sure you'll recall such other classics as "Where's the beef?" and "I'm not the Herb you're looking for" as staples of your generation. If not, then consider yourself fortunate enough to be using the space in your cranium for something other than useless trivia.
Just as fast as you can say SHERIFF LOBO, images of the "Simpsons" episode, "Bart Gets Famous", where Bart enjoys 15 minutes of fame for his "I DIDN'T DO IT" catch phrase come to mind. Bart's catch phrase landed him on the Conan O'Brien show, where he was promptly told by the red-haired one, "SHUT UP AND SAY THE LINE".
Just the other night, life imitated art on THE TONIGHT SHOW. Jay Leno's special guests, along with Jennifer Love Hewitt, were none other than the "WHASSUP" guys. There was Jay, politely asking them all for their names and their little fascinating story, listening to them name-drop Spike Lee as a close, personal friend. They showed a clip of the guys hangin' out at a local bowling alley, approaching people and talking them into saying "Whassup?". Jay even egged Jennifer Love Hewitt to join in the "Whassup"ing. Hewitt politely suggested that she was beyond such horseplay.
Perhaps Hewitt's reaction to the "Whassup" guys was more honest that Jay Leno's. While she appeared prudish, at least she was genuinely unimpressed. Jay Leno knows better than anyone else that these guys were only a hot ticket on the show for their ability to "SHUT UP AND SAY THE LINE", yet he feigned interest for the entire segment.
I'm sure he had the "Where's the beef" lady on the show during her heyday (or was that in the days of Johnny Carson...it seems so long ago), and probably appeared just as interested in her story, while thinking to himself. "SHUT UP AND SAY THE LINE".
Perhaps "real" Hollywood types who sacrifice their integrity on a daily basis actually thrive on pandering to these people, people who just happened to sacrifice their integrity ONCE to get 15 minutes of fame. After all, it is these types who give talk shows a true change of pace. Drew Barrymore can't flash her tits to every talk show host every single night, now can she? It is also these types whose decline into obscurity serves as some sort of sick comfort that THEY are still SOMEBODY.
With all that having been said, is being known as a "Whassup" guy, and having 15 minutes of fame that most of us won't ever achieve, such a bad thing?
Would you do something foolish to nab a brief moment in the spotlight? Many would. Look at all of the people that Letterman has featured on "Stupid Human Tricks". Look at "Ripley's Believe It Or Not".
Look at CNN! Wait a minute...the "Whassup" guys are on there too, telling the story of their rise to fame and ability to start Budweiser taps flowing anywhere in the continental U.S. For some reason we find this interesting, if not for the sole fact that we know they will be crushed into obsolescence by the same media who is currently waving their flag.
It's a sick world we live in, so why not just go along with it and say "Whassup!!!".
Here are the links to the ads, in case you HAVEN'T been subjected to them.
P.S.: Last week's FAST INTERNET ACCESS column was not enough to get me hooked up any faster than I was two weeks ago. Go figure, the folks at Bell World were clueless as to when I could actually get high speed access. They hear a rumour that the magic month will be April, though, so I remain slightly optimistic.