Anyone growing up in the 80s remembers Anheuser-Busch’s Original Party Animal, Spuds McKenzie. Originally appearing in a 1987 Super Bowl commercial for Bud Light, he’s always accompanied by three beautiful “Spudettes” and is always the center of attention.
Calm, cool, collected, and never short on girls or beer, Spuds was completely likable and memorable and beer sales reflected it. The commercials were wildly successful showing Spuds dancing, high-diving, playing drums, pole vaulting, and even ski jumping. By 1988, he helped Bud Light, which was introduced in 1982, soar to the number 3 spot of all beer sold in the U.S. Most memorable (at least for me) was at the end of each commercial, one of the supermodels always had a suggestive compliment for Spuds, which he always took in stride. Good Boy!
Robin Leech (of the popular show ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’) provided the voice over’s, which contributed to the image of “living the good life”, not to mention the “coolness factor”.
The commercials with Spuds, who was actually a female Bull Terrier named Honey Tree Evil Eye, continued their popularity with millions of bottles of beer sold in American grocery stores along with countless t-shirts, glasses, mugs, key chains, and beach towels.
His extreme adoration, however, led to his demise. Mothers Against Drunk Driving began a nationwide protest against Anheuser-Busch claiming that Spuds popularity with children lead to an increase in under age drinking. Complaints were filed with the FCC and an investigation was launched. Although the FCC found no proof of Spuds delinquency of minors, the public relations damage had been done.
Anheuser-Busch began to fear that Spuds popularity and new notoriety may be overpowering the Bud Light brand. That, along with the MADD complaints, led to the decision to retire Spuds from commercials in 1989.
Looking for a replacement and a character that wouldn’t overshadow the product, Anheuser-Busch turned to the product itself and unveiled Bud Bowl I during the 1989 Super Bowl. These unique ads featured bottles of Bud Light and Budweiser playing each other in a football championship. The spots were created using expensive and time-consuming stop-motion photography. (This was before computers were technically advanced enough to handle this type of animation.) Each game provided lots of drama, last-second heroics, comedy, and, to the delight of Anheuser-Busch, hundreds of shots of the product.
Despite the intense labor and cost involved, the commercials were a huge hit and the consumer response from Bud Bowl I was an unprecedented 17% spike in Budweiser sales that month. The following year Bud Bowl II continued on the popularity and brought a spike of 19%. In 1992, Bud Bowl IV brought in an unbelievable 46% increase in grocery store sales.
Kitschy and cool, each year brought more game-within-the-game Bud Bowl commercials, characters, celebrities, and highlights. It was Anheuser-Busch’s most successful campaign ever. However, by 1999, consumers had become weary of the annual contest and Anheuser-Busch ended the campaign.
Later Super Bowls featured the Bud-weis-er Frogs and the “Whassup?!” guys. Each was extremely popular, instantly recognizable by a majority of Americans, and spawned numerous commercial sequels. But they failed where it mattered most, as neither managed to increase sales quite as well as Spuds and Bud Bowl did a few decades ago. Shortly after, the campaigns were ended.
So the search continues for Anheuser-Busch for the next great spokesperson, or frog, dog, or bottle, which will propel sales during the Super Bowl once again. Tune in next year!
Author: Marc Obregon, President, Accelerator Advertising, Inc.