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by Dan O'Day

A reader asks:

"The Budweiser commercials that feature the frogs, the lizards, and the ferret (audio and video) seem to break many advertising rules. Do you think they are effective? Why do they work if they do? Why are they used so much if they don't work?"

Dan replies:

Yes, they seem to violate rules of good advertising.

Yes, they work.

Yes, most businesses will approach bankruptcy if they follow Budweiser's advertising model.

The Budweiser campaign is designed to maintain top-of-mind awareness - to make sure that when a thirsty beer-drinker has a choice of beers, that thirsty beer-drinker will say, "Give me a Bud."

Before you rush to apply this strategy to your client, ask yourself:

"Does this client already have top-of-mind awareness?"

Because if you don't already have it, you cannot possibly "maintain it."

In terms of sales in the U.S., Budweiser truly is "the king of beers."

The Budweiser campaigns are not intended to induce "product sampling" - i.e., to get Miller or Samuel Adams drinkers to "try" a Bud instead.

Rather, they're intended to reinforce the "When you want a beer, you want a Bud" conditioning of the American beer-drinking public.

Call it Institutional Advertising.

Call it Image Advertising.

Coke does the same thing, plastering the familiar Coca-Cola handwriting on billboards around the world.

Those billboards do nothing to convince non-cola drinkers to "try" Coke or Pepsi lovers to forsake their favorite brand.

They're intended instead to encourage all those millions of soft drinkers to continue ask for "a Coke" instead of "a soda" or "a cola" or "a Pepsi."

Budweiser isn't selling malt and hops. It's not even selling beer. It's selling "a good time." And lots of Americans equate "a good time" with "drinking beer."

But there's a deeper, more important factor that drives Budweiser's advertising: Budweiser has a deep, dark, secret. A secret so horrific that it, if it becomes widely known, could cripple this powerful brand.

And here is that secret:

Budweiser is the beer my grandfather, Max (1890 - 1986) always drank.

Max was Old School. He didn't know from talking frogs. I'm pretty sure one of the last things he said to me before passing away at the age of 96 was, "Thank God I'm dying before Rap Music becomes really popular."

For an American beer, Budweiser is very old. It's my grandfather's beer. It's been the world's best-selling beer since 1957.

And Anheuser-Busch does not want its 18-to-49 year old male core to think of Budweiser as "my grandfather's beer." So they spend untold millions of dollars to convince consumers that the Bud brand is youthful, hip, and fun.

This kind of "Image Advertising" requires three ingredients to succeed:

  1. Great creative work. (Of the three, this is the easiest to acquire.)

  2. A ton of money.

  3. A Dominant, Respected Image.
What other word often is applied to this kind of advertising?

You got it: Branding.

But Branding is not getting your name in front of millions of people.

Branding is not making millions of people familiar with your name.

The dotcommers learned this lesson the hard way, flushing away hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. Remember all those expensive, Internet-related Superbowl ads from years past?

Those fools bragged to anyone who would listen (i.e., virtually everyone in the media) that they were "building a brand" with those commercials.

They weren't building a brand. They were squandering fortunes.

So....What is a brand?

A Brand Is The Solution To A Problem.

Note the use of the word "the." Not "a" solution; it's the solution.

Coca-Cola is the solution to the problem, "I'm hot and thirsty and want something carbonated and caffeinated."

Two companies offering the same service: Airborne Express and FedEx.

Only one of them is the solution to the problem, "This package must be on the other side of the country tomorrow morning!" Hence their now abandoned yet still brilliant positioning slogan, "When it absolutely, positively has to get there overnight."

(Airborne Express, on the other hand, is the solution to the problem, "When you're willing to save a couple of bucks even though there's a good chance your package will arrive late....")

(By the way, the strength of FedEx does not reside in their having been the first in their category, because they were not the first.)

Long before The Simpsons, Matt Groening's syndicated LIFE IN HELL comic strip featured Akbar and Jeff's frozen yogurt stand, which offered frozen yogurt "with hardly any bitter metallic aftertaste!" In other words, a solution to a problem.

How about a couple of other examples of "image advertising" that fails miserably, you ask?


How about a product to which I'm completely loyal? One that I've been buying since 1987, one that I've spent maybe $30,000 - $50,000 on (including peripherals) over the years? One that is more expensive than its competition yet which I *never* have been tempted to desert for a cheaper alternative?

Macintosh Computers.

Oh, one more thing:

A product with an absolutely stupid, award-winning ad campaign.

You've seen it:

"Think Different."

Pay a fortune to the estates of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein and others, link their images to that two-word slogan and the Apple logo.

"Think Different."

How can I say it's an idiotic campaign? After all, it has won some awards, right?

Here's how:

ATTENTION, APPLE COMPUTERS AD GUYS: "Think Different" is the battle cry of a war that already has been lost.

FACT: Apple's operating system is now and always has been superior to anything ever released by Microsoft (from DOS to Windows 2000, inclusive). Old Mac joke: Windows 98 = Macintosh 87.

FACT: Even today, Windows is a slower, stupider imitation of Mac's operating system.

FACT: (This one is real important.) The single most common reason why people purchase PCs rather than Macs is, "Everyone at work is on a PC." They all use software for PCs, not for Macs. Their I.T. guys know PCs, not Macs. And, of course, "It's harder to find software for Macs."

In other words, 95% of the world's computer users opt for PCs because in this case, they do not want to "Think Different!"

In the mid-to-late '80s, when the world had not yet anointed the PC as King, "Think Different" might have worked. Because the personal computer itself was a "different" product category, as the world shifted from main frames to desktops. IBM was the Old Guard, being tested on new ground.

But "Think Different" in today's buying climate??

But....Didn't I read somewhere that Apple staged a dramatic comeback in the marketplace?

Yes, by introducing some great new products. Alas, they've since lost quite a bit of that newly gained ground. They did make a splash, though.

Hey, maybe after Apple finally fires its current ad agency, that agency can shop that same slogan to the Betamax people: "Everyone else in the world is using VHS, but you can Think Different with Beta!"

How should they sell Macintosh?

"It's incredibly easy to use!"

"Here's a 400-page User Manual. If this is your idea of Fun Reading, maybe you SHOULDN'T buy a Macintosh."

"Out of the box and onto the Internet in five minutes!" (They do tout the iMacs with a similar promise, and some of their TV spots featuring Jeff Goldblum have focused on this.)

The next time someone praises Apple's "brilliant" ad campaign, you might enlighten them as to this timeline:

  1. Apple releases a great new product.

  2. Public loves new product.

  3. Public buys new product; sales increase.

  4. "Think Different" ad campaign begins.

  5. Sales decrease.

Final Exhibit

D'ja ever hear of Angelyne?

I'll bet most people who live in Los Angeles have.

She's famous, kind of. For....Well, for nothing -- except for being on billboards.

Starting around the time I bought my first Macintosh, her likeness began appearing on billboards in the L.A. area: A startling, obscenely buxom blonde, along with the name "Angelyne" and the phone number of her "management."

The idea was she would become "famous" by being seen on those billboards. And somehow that fame would give her a fulsome show biz career.

Fans of the TV show, Moonlighting, might recall the inclusion of her billboard in that program's weekly opening credits.

The billboards continue as part of the L.A. landscape, although -- thankfully -- her photograph has been replaced with an artist's drawing.

And her "career"?

Sad to report that being a cultural running joke doesn't pay all that well.

Read Angelyne's own true story in her own true words:

Discover Angelyne's continuing impact on L.A. culture:

Moral: Building a brand does not mean making your client "famous." It means establishing your client as the solution to a problem.

All Articles © 1997 - 2022 Dan O'Day. All Rights Reserved