The Thing That Refuses to Die, Fails to Die Yet Again
Sometime in September 1999, I was talking to producer Carol King in the Chicago offices of Publicis/Hal Riney.
I forget what we were talking about, but somehow it led her to showing me a much-copied VHS tape of a short film she had just seen.
It featured a bunch of African-American friends greeting each other with elongated and exaggerated shouts of ‘Whassup!' into phones and an apartment buzzer.
I thought it was hilarious.
And because I worked on beer advertising, I loved the fact that two the guys were watching football on TV. I could see the bottles of Bud in their hands. There was no drinking in the short film by the way.
I liked the idea. And so did my boss. And so did the Budweiser client. They were shopping for Super Bowl ideas at the time. So my timing was good.
Now we just had to sell the idea to the creator of the short film. We tracked down the director Charles Stone. This was before everything was online. He agreed to do it again, this time with Budweiser in mind. I added the line 'watching the game having a Bud' because Budweiser is part of American life. It’s even got a nickname: Bud.
The commercial was intended to run in Super Bowl 2000 but the client loved it so much they put it on the NBA on Christmas Day 1999.
By the time of the Super Bowl it had already gone seriously viral. It’s a myth that it debuted on Super Bowl 2000. But every year it gets voted in the top ten SB ads of all time. What can you do?
This campaign was hilarious fun to do. We had a great client relationship and a degree of trust and creative freedom that would make you weep. Massive media budgets too.
And then the Budweiser Whassup! catchphrase virality and Whassup! parody mania ensued. There was a surprisingly huge appetite for this idea globally.
It took a while but the circus did eventually move on.
And I not unreasonably figured ‘well that’s the end of that’.
But I was wrong.
As much media attention as the campaign generated in its heyday, it has never truly gone away. It keeps getting revived.
The reason for that is that the campaign hit so hard when it hit. While I’d like to think it was because of my brilliant copywriting, the fact is we took advantage of a dynamic that actually existed in culture. Rap music was going mainstream and we were selling beer to the Eminem generation. The magic came from spotting this incredible piece of authentic content and using it as a springboard to place Bud into the cultural conversation, rather than forcing a linkage to a shiny trend or popular TV show. It was also based on a human truth - a bonding moment among friends that reinforced but also transcended the drinking occasion. In short: it was relatable in a timeless way.
It also had a great PR back story: rap video director Charles Stone and pals show Madison Avenue what’s up. Even though that wasn’t how it happened it made a great story for the media. And they went with it. I would have too.
Of all the innumerable media revivals and homages to the Whassup! campaign both of my favourites were done by English guys. And I’m Irish born and raised. So they better be good!
Ricky Gervais made my night by putting a reference to the campaign in the first episode of The Office.
And more recently James Corden nailed it on his legendary ‘Gavin and Stacey’ UK TV show.
The Whassup! guys got paid and everybody traveled the world having fun winning every award there was to give.
Charles Stone the director got famous in Hollywood. He just directed Uncle Drew. It’s out now. See it!
And now the old Whassup! idea has been revived yet again.
This time via Burger King.
A lot of people have recently asked me what I think about the latest revival of the idea in 2018 for Burger King.
I think it’s a wonderful idea so long as the Whassup! guys got paid.
At this point it’s like a comet that endlessly orbits the cultural solar system. Which is appropriate. It sure hit like a comet.
Fun Whassup! Trivia fact. The guys politely refused an invitation to open the Republican Party National Convention in 2000. How times have changed.
Vinny Warren is Executive Creative Director at The Escape Pod