Nine months after returning to DDB Chicago, copywriter Vinny Warren sat in a room at the Ritz-Carlton in Los Angeles wondering if he had lost it. After watching the first edits for a new Budweiser campaign, he thought his "Bud goggles," as he calls them, might be foggy. So he tested his ad on the room-service waiter. The reaction? "You got a phenomenon."
At that time, Warren, 34, recalls, he had no idea the waiter would be right. But DDB's now ubiquitous "Whassup?" campaign has forever changed the career of a man who once drove carriages in New York's Central Park for a living.
In fact, the campaign has taken on a life of its own. What began when Warren saw the "Whassup?" greeting in the short film True by director Charles Stone III has now earned more than $20 million in free media exposure and talk value, according to agency estimates. It swept the awards at Cannes and has inspired 74 parodies featuring animated superheroes, grandmothers and British tea drinkers.
Parodies, while flattering, have also been frustrating. One spot featuring older women "watching a game show, drinking a Bud" never aired—a similar parody beat DDB to the punch.
"We're constantly fighting the downside to the huge upside of a successful campaign," says the native of Galway, Ireland, whose challenge now is to stay ahead of the pack. The latest Bud spot shows how to say "Whassup?" in different languages.
The ads were a big departure for Budweiser, says Don Pogany, DDB's group creative director. "But they worked because Vinny knows the brand," he says. "He knows what guys like and lives with the common man," adds Bob Lachky, vice president of brand management for Anheuser-Busch.
Those who know Warren say success has not changed his down-to-earth demeanor. His Irish drawl can ignite a room, and he's the guy you want to have a beer with.