When you secretly plan to bring 1,000 beer drinkers to a quiet mountainside village in Colorado, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, a fair amount, as it turns out—most of it involving the residents after they find out.
It's been a big problem for Bud Light over the past week. When we spoke to the brand last month about its cryptic "Whatever USA" campaign, it was tight-lipped—and proudly so—about which town it would be visiting on Sept. 5-7 (with those 1,000 young revelers in tow) for a weekend of filmable carousing.
"We even have people within the walls here who have no idea [which town it is]," David Daniels, marketing director for Bud Light, told us.
But that secrecy had its downside. Indeed, most residents in the town itself—Crested Butte, Colo., population 1,487—didn't know, either. And after word leaked out in recent weeks, many of them were exceedingly perturbed. And they jammed a town meeting last week to express their outrage.
"I do not understand how this got this far down the road in absolute secrecy," former Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth, a Crested Butte resident, complained at the meeting, reports the Denver Post. Another man spoke in Mickey Mouse ears and a "Dumbest Town Ever" T-shirt, criticizing town officials for allowed their bucolic village to be turned into Disneyland.
People have been griping online, too. "How is your waste water treatment system going to handle the massive flows from beer drinkers flushing down thousands of extra gallons of kidney-killing pseudo-beer down the sewers?" wrote one colorful Post commenter.
Oddly, the town didn't vote until last Thursday—just a week and a day before the event—on whether to grant Bud Light the special-use permit it would need to put on the festivities. The brand reportedly had a backup town in place, but was obviously relieved when the Crested Butte Town Council voted unanimously to approve the permit.
Adweek reached out to Daniels this week, who responded with a statement.
"With any event, you have to build consensus before you get on the ground. After we made our case to the Crested Butte Town Council, we were thrilled to see it pass by a unanimous vote," he said. "We can't imagine a better setting for a weekend of unexpected, unparalleled fun. We've spent several months planning and preparing for Whatever USA, and have worked closely with the town to ensure we cause the least amount of disruption to the community. When the weekend is over, we plan to return the town to exactly how it was when we arrived."
Since the plans were so secretive, it's hard to know whether or how Bud Light might have handled the situation differently.
A promise from the very beginning to donate money to local charities—or improve the community in some other tangible way—could certainly have helped. Of course, then you'd have to tell more people what you're doing, which would ruin the surprise—and the whole premise of the campaign—if it got leaked.
But of course, it got leaked anyway (though, thankfully for the brand, pretty late in the game). Indeed, one upshot of all the hubbub is that Bud Light has been forced to publicly reveal many of its plans early.
As the Post reports: "No, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Don Cheadle will not be here. Other celebrities will be. Bono won't play, but some C-list bands will. Blue-painted elephants will not be ambling down Elk. Blue-painted performers could be. The event will be made into a commercial, but won't be shown during Super Bowl."
Bud Light might have anticipated some of this backlash. But the whole production quite literally turned out to be a tougher sell than the brand imagined—as Crested Butte is charging $500,000 for the permit, up from an originally proposed $250,000.
For that price, it better be one hell of a party.