Emphasizing Taste, and Not Just in Beer, at Super Bowl



Published: January 26, 2005

Anheuser-Busch, the biggest advertiser on the Super Bowl, the biggest day of the year for advertising, is making good on a promise to clean up its act.

A look at some commercials that Anheuser-Busch is considering for Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6 – for beers like Bud Light, Budweiser, Budweiser Select and Michelob Amber Bock – indicates the company was considerably chastened by the reaction from salacious, provocative spots it ran last year.

The content and tone of the commercials under consideration for next month are well within the bounds of mainstream marketing. Missing are the double entendres, bathroom humor and crude sight gags that dominated last year.

“Our goal is to be careful,” said Bob Lachky, vice president for brand management and director for global brand creative at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.

“We want to make sure the types of situations we depict and the jokes we tell don’t cross the line of good taste,” Mr. Lachky said. “There’s a heightened sense of awareness where that line is.”

Anheuser-Busch is among a lengthy list of Super Bowl advertisers pledging to keep it clean as they react to the outrage generated by the halftime show last year, which became notorious for Janet Jackson’s so-called wardrobe malfunction. Other sponsors include FedEx, Ford Motor, General Motors, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Unilever and Visa.

The mildness of the prospective Anheuser-Busch commercials is in stark contrast to the spots a year ago, which were castigated for tawdry, tasteless plot lines centered on characters like a flatulent horse, a man who mistakenly underwent a painful bikini-wax treatment, a crotch-biting dog and a male monkey that coveted a (human) woman.

The outcry over the commercials, for the Bud Light and Budweiser beer brands, was amplified by the halftime show as well as the coincidental appearance of similarly sophomoric commercials for several other brands. Critics complained that the other spots, for products like Lay’s potato chips and Sierra Mist soda, were also inappropriate for the broad-based Super Bowl audience.

“Last year, we hit a tipping point,” said Joseph Jaffe, president of Jaffe, a new-marketing consulting company in Westport, Conn.

“Traditionally, the creative challenge is to raise the bar and set a higher standard,” Mr. Jaffe said, but last year it seemed it was to find “the lowest common denominator” that would “appeal to the target audience, the inebriated frat boy.”

In response to the complaints, the president of Anheuser-Busch, August A. Busch IV, pledged the company would reassess its approach to Super Bowl advertising, which the critics charged was intended to pander to the prime beer drinkers, men from 21 to 25. In an appearance last April at a prominent industry event, the annual management conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Mr. Busch promised to shelve the spot about the flatulent horse, which he did, and be more circumspect in developing the commercials for 2005.

Mr. Lachky said he did not consider himself constrained for Super Bowl XXXIX.

“As an advertiser, you look at the times you live in and you do lots of research,” Mr. Lachky said, adding that while the company and its agencies “don’t want to lose the humor” for which the Anheuser-Busch commercials are known, this year’s spots are being created with a renewed realization that “the audience for the Super Bowl isn’t just beer drinkers; it’s a broader audience.”

Mr. Lachky made his comments Monday night as he offered a preview of more than 20 commercials that he and other Anheuser-Busch executives are considering for 10 30-second slots. The winnowing process will continue through next week.

Some commercials being considered are winsome, like a spot for Budweiser by the Chicago office of DDB Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group, that shows the Clydesdales engaged in an anthropomorphic snowball fight, and a spot to encourage designating a driver, also by DDB Chicago, featuring the comedian Cedric the Entertainer unwittingly inventing a dance.

Many under scrutiny have surprise endings. Two by DDB Chicago for Bud Light offer a comic take on skydiving and driving a steamroller. One for Budweiser, also by DDB Chicago, presents a fanciful take on a meeting of two Anheuser-Busch endorsers, the singers Tim McGraw and Nelly. And a spot for Bud Light by the DDB New York office exposes the workings of a “beer robot.”

“You don’t have to cross the line to be entertaining,” said Lee Garfinkel, chairman and chief creative officer at DDB New York.

Several proposed Bud Light commercials comment on the battle of the sexes, but in a more good-natured, less vulgar way than last year. One spot, by DDB Chicago, explores a fantasy of Cedric’s about a desert isle. A second spot, by Seed DDB, led by a former DDB Chicago creative executive, John Immesoete, depicts how a wily older woman masters the art of self-defense to protect her beer. A third spot, by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, part of Omnicom, contrasts what men and women want in a new house.

Bob Scarpelli, chairman of DDB Chicago and the DDB United States chief creative officer, said, “After last year, we wanted to get back to being entertaining and fun and not have anyone interpret anything as being in bad taste.”

Anheuser-Busch is also considering a corporate commercial, Mr. Lachky said, that would salute members of the military, to be created by DDB Chicago.

The Super Bowl is called the biggest day of the year for Madison Avenue – “when half the households in America become advertising experts,” as Mr. Lachky put it – because it is usually the most-watched sponsored TV program each year. The game also serves as a showcase for dozens of commercials that viewers are seeing for the first time.

This year, Fox Broadcasting is charging a record price for each 30-second spot, an average estimate of $2.4 million; Super Bowl mainstays like Anheuser-Busch, the sole beer sponsor, typically pay less.

Anheuser-Busch was considering a spot to take a light-hearted look back at last year, Mr. Lachky said, but decided it was best to “move on.” The commercial, by DDB New York, is available on the Budweiser Web site (budweiser.com), under the banner “See the ad you won’t see during the big game!”

One Super Bowl advertiser will offer a comment, albeit indirectly. The GoDaddy Group, which operates GoDaddy.com, a Web site registry, and its agency, the Ad Store in New York, are to run a spot about a buxom young woman testifying before a Congressional committee when her wardrobe malfunctions – significantly less calamitously than Ms. Jackson’s.

“What happened last year was much to-do about nothing,” said Bob Parsons, president of GoDaddy in Phoenix, adding, “I work with homeless kids in Phoenix, and not one of them was put on the street by Janet Jackson’s breast.”