When Cedric the Entertainer appeared in commercials for Bud Light about two decades ago, they “made me more famous than any TV show or movie,” he recalls. The first one “was off the Richter.”
Anheuser-Busch InBev is hoping its next ad for the beer causes a similar metaphorical earthquake during this Sunday’s broadcast of the Super Bowl.
Cedric will join a bevy of Bud Light commercial icons that range from the singer from the brew’s “Real Men of Genius” commercials to the Bud Knight to the guy who uttered the catchphrase, “I Love You Man.” Like a team of super-heroes, the figures will come together across time and space to help get Bud Light to eager customers waiting at a convenience store. The company thinks the revival of so many Bud Light pitch-people on screen will capture the interest of a Super Bowl audience looking for a few moments of fun and relief during a year upturned by the coronavirus pandemic.
“People have been uneasy, and we think nostalgia gives people a sense of comfort, a look back at something that was a good time,” says Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, in an interview.
Bringing back old concepts represents a different tactic from Goeler, who has worked for Anheuser-Busch for three decades, well before it was purchased by InBev in 2008. He has in recent years supervised some eyebrow-raising Big Game gambits from Bud Light. Killing off the popular Bud Knight in 2019 was just one of them. Under his aegis, Bud Light shared a commercial with HBO’s “Game of Thrones” in a bid to latch on to the popularity of that franchise. In 2019, Bud Light spurred months of debate – and even had to go to court – after Super Bowl ads spotlighted the use of corn syrup by rivals Coors Light and Miller Lite.
Viewers are likely to recognize some figures in the new spot, like Post Malone, the rapper and musician who appeared in a Bud Light Super Bowl spot last year. Not everyone, however, will recall some members of Bud Light’s coterie. Bud Light trotted out its “Real Men of Genius” in the late 90s and early 2000s. The “I Love You Man” catchphrase came of age in the mid-1990s.
Marketing executives wondered whether each of their figures would spark an instant connection, says Goeler. “We had some interesting things to work through. What if people are watching the ad and they don’t know any of these people?” The company made sure to query consumers who hadn’t seen its older commercials and get their reaction. Turns out they understood the concept and loved the old ads.
But Anheuser isn’t taking any chances. Bud Light has been running older commercials during recent NFL playoff broadcasts, and has surrounded them with graphics that call the ads “Bud Light Legends.” It’s been pretty clear that something has been in the offing.
The company also had to assemble a wide roster of actors who hadn’t played their Bud Light roles in years. “The creative was the easy part. It really was the characters and contacting [the actors],” says Goeler. “What are they doing today? Are they filming other movies? Are they in the country? That was quite a process.” Many of the creative concepts were devised by DDB, the Omnicom Group ad agency that worked in lockstep for years with a previous generation of the Anheuser-Busch executive suite.
Cedric the Entertainer says he had no problem getting back into character. He appeared in a Bud Light Super Bowl ad in which he gets so excited about a date he is on that he shakes up two bottles of the beer and inadvertently soaks his companion. “As soon as we got on set, the opportunity came for me to turn it up,” he says. “It was fun to sort of go back 20 years and just have a good time with this character.”
The brewer hopes the advertising assemblage spurs customers to make deeper connections. Bud Light intends to start a consumer loyalty program that will allow people who sign up to get merchandise based on some of the vintage commercial concepts. “You really want to be as close as you can to your consumers,” says Goeler. Reviving decades of advertising represents just one way to do that.