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Bud, Sweat and Careers

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Last week, AdFreak, Adweek's snarky Internet alter ego, had a fascinating post about the origins of the catchphrase suddenly quaking the nation: "I will drink your milkshake!" So from the scholarly heights of oil drainage and milkshake drinking, I bring you the new lows of beer drainage and its aftereffects, and another beverage-related catchphrase that's sweeping the land: "Bud Light: Suck one!"

Daniel Day Lewis thunders those six syllables (about the milkshake) at the end of There Will Be Blood, right before, indeed, there is blood. It turns out that the movie's writer-director, Paul Thomas Anderson, grabbed the dialogue straight from "a transcript he found of the 1924 congressional hearings over the Teapot Dome scandal." According to USA Today, it was the way Sen. Albert Fall described oil drainage. ("Sir, if you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and my straw reaches across the room, I'll end up drinking your milkshake.") Fall was convicted of taking bribes for oil rights on public lands.

So from the scholarly heights of oil drainage and milkshake drinking, I bring you the new lows of beer drainage and its aftereffects, and another beverage-related catchphrase that's sweeping the land: "Bud Light: Suck one!"

The line is uttered at the end of a Bud Light commercial by Will Ferrell, the hairy man in the tiny shorts, as the character Jackie Moon from his upcoming movie, Semi-Pro. (It opens Feb. 29, for those who like to block out ubiquitous media messages.) The spot is already a fan favorite on YouTube, where there are pages and pages of postings from kids asking, "Have you seen this?"

They actually have a point in thinking they're the first: The ad, the last of Bud's Super Bowl buy, ran toward the end of the fourth quarter, when the game was so exciting that everyone forgot they were watching for the commercials. Plus, it featured Ferrell deep into character as a '70s-era "Flint Tropics" basketball team owner/player/coach with mighty sideburns, man perm and an orange palm tree on his tight, tight jersey. Another sports comedy for Ferrell: Somehow I think that he'll transform a team of lovable losers into winners.

With each of his deluded, not-too-bright and overly manly characters, Ferrell radiates that same intense cluelessness, a deadpan, wrongheaded macho that, combined with his penchant for liberally showing off his pale belly flab, is often hilarious. At the same time, the funny name, funny hair, funny outfit and funny job schtick gets mighty formulaic. It's Anchorman meets Blades of Glory on the court! Talladega Nights during the day!

But there's no denying that although the similarity of the movies might become a problem for Ferrell the actor, the characters he inhabits are perfect for advertising -- walking billboards in every sense, as literally embodied by race car driver Ricky Bobby and his logos (and affection for Wonder Bread).

Once Semi-Pro opens, we'll see whether Ferrell has played this same game one time too many. Maybe audiences will get sick of him before Semi-Pro hits theaters, but his apparent eagerness to cross-promote the movie is a win-win for advertisers. In their tragic, flawed, idiotic manliness, Ferrell's movie characters resonate with young men. He's free to do, say and perform all the salacious, moronic stuff that passes for high comedy in that demographic. It turns out that 30 seconds of it works just as well as an entire movie.

A clever commercial-within-a-commercial, the format of the Bud Light spot is a great way to get the nearly obscene stuff you can't really say on television -- on television. (There's a longer, dirtier Internet version as well.) As his Semi-Pro character on a set, a sweatbanded Ferrell-as-Moon poses with a certain deluded, groin-based determination as he spouts wildly inappropriate lines that the director responds to by yelling "Cut!" (I was told that Ferrell read from the script and did not improvise on the Bud Light set. It was shot during the writers' strike, and he's a guild member.) Yet even on network TV, we are privileged enough to hear lines like "Refreshes the palate -- and the loins" and "A lot of sweat goes into every bottle ... not literally, that would be gross."

He's right, that would be gross, but as it turns out, it's also amazingly fitting for the purposes of cross-cross-cross promotion: a beer ad promoting a movie and an antiperspirant! It's three things in one! (There's also a promotion within a promotion in the editorial pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Jackie poses with a bikini-clad Heidi Klum, with accompanying text that treats him like a real person. I'm not sure what annoyed me more: That SI gave up valuable editorial real estate for a movie promo, or that Heidi could possibly look this way after having three babies. Among the outtakes online, there's actually one of Heidi holding her nose, which is positioned beneath Jackie's armpit.

How felicitous for Old Spice antiperspirant, which is also part of this seemingly infinite cross-promotional universe. This has broken a new barrier for synergistic fluid promotion: Beer summons jokes about bodily fluids, and sweat is right up there. (The Old Spice demo might be slightly younger than what Budweiser would acknowledge is its own, but never mind, it's the same mind-set -- perhaps a bit more poop obsessed.)

And certainly, the Old Spice work does not disappoint on that account. There's TV, a Web site and online video, including "Herniated Colon" and "Number 2." But hold onto your sides, because while it treads some dubious and already overworked ground, some of the Old Spice stuff is actually pretty funny.

Take "Herniated Colon." (The jokes just write themselves.) There Jackie stands, in a locker room complete with a sign ordering "Soap on a rope only in shower area," and speaks to the camera while officiously holding the product up. "Do you have a herniated colon?" he asks, which, when you think about it, is quite the icebreaker. "If you do, then the last thing you need is another unrelated problem, like overactive sweat glands," he says, rather sensibly. "Then you're the guy with the herniated colon and the sweat glands." His delivery is so serious that you have to laugh. He brings a new no-nonsense tagline to each spot: "Cauterize your sweat glands shut!" in one, and "Put it in your armpits!" in another. They rival Bud Light's "Suck one!" for, um, directness.

Six spots are running on TV and on oldspice.com, where the jaunty graphics reinforce a pre-potty Old Spice sailor/pirate/sea theme. (Love the parchment.) All of the spots end with a few bars of that Old Spice whistling mnemonic, followed by the sound of a pounding basketball and the movie mention, which delivers a nice aural one-two punch.

The spots exiled to the Net are only slightly more outrageous than the ones running on TV: In "Number 2," Moon, ever the scientist, says (and sorry if you're eating), "Sweat is caused by millions of tiny sweat glands dropping a deuce. Don't smell like a turtle cage." The 12- to 14-year-olds who do, in fact, tend to smell like turtle cages will probably be falling on the floor.

"Armpit" leaves the excretory system for an all-natural, 1970s, pre-waxing tour of the male pit: Jackie lifts his arm to show us how he provides "100 combs every day" so "each armpit, each strand of hair gets individual attention." He then explains that the "pro-strength, clinically proven" product is "the finest street-legal antiperspirant you can get outside of Mexico that's not poisonous."

Certainly, Old Spice works all possible bodily jokes to the limit. Still, it gets limiting, in the same way that Ferrell does one character over and over in almost every movie.

Synergistically, all roads lead to talk of sweat and alcohol aplenty in the many online trailers for the movie. "Come on people, let's get sweaty," Ferrell intones sexily in one. "I'm talking rain-forest sweaty." In another version, he says, "There's nothing in the rule book that says you can't get drunk."

The Bud Light and Old Spice fit in seamlessly, and in the new media universe, all this exposure for the movie is any marketer's dream. New Line has found a way to reach its straw across the room. But if Semi-Pro sucks -- and from the looks of it, it would not be a shock -- the only brand to suffer will be the undeniably smart and talented Will Ferrell.

Old Spice Lacks Will Power

Ferrell does not appear in the "Is It Right for Me?" campaign for Old Spice High Endurance Hair and Body wash (in print and TV executions), which are killer funny because of the detailed, and sometimes subtle, way they parody old-school male grooming and health commercials that (amazingly) are still around.

By spoofing the form, the spots also get to repeat the product name endlessly. Men of all ages and hair formations face the camera and earnestly ask, "Is Old Spice Hair and Body right for me?"

They are confused because their own hair is often tufted in odd (but poignant) places on their bodies. For example, the first cut shows a 50-plus man at work on his model ship, while his wife keeps her hand on his shoulder. This is clearly an erectile dysfunction commercial formation, so we're primed to think the question is going to go in the direction of his prostate when he asks, "I have hair here" (points to his chest) but not here (points to his head). Is it right for me?" The announcer assures each guy that yes, Old Spice Hair and Body wash is right for him. Even the guy with the dreads, who says, "I have hair extensions that technically are not made of hair," gets an affirmative. (Another clip shows an aviator-glasses-wearing, uniformed sheriff pinning down a bare-chested felon on a car hood. The felon, who's got quite a 'do, looks up to ask about his own ablutionary needs, and the announcer assures him, "Yes, sure, criminal!"

In an age of over- zealous product proliferation (and specialization) the spot makes fun of its own niche: Can you really wash both your hair and body with one product? It's traumatic even to think about it. (Years ago, of course, a simple bar of soap -- perhaps on a rope -- did it all.)

The delightful end visual says everything it needs to about diverse needs, all united, and taken care of, by one product: The Old Spice bottle is placed on a shower floor, between the limbs of a soapy man. One leg is hairy, and one leg is hair-free, and yes, he's allowed to use the body wash on both.