Creative Campaigns: Couch Potato Question

DDB and Bud ask “Whassup?”
When DDB copywriter Vinny Warren saw the short film True, he thought it could be a perfect ad for Budweiser.
“True mirrors the viewer exactly,” he says. In the film, four couch potatoes watch TV and talk on the phone, greeting each other with an exaggerated, guttural cry: “Whassuuuuuup?”
After seeing the short, Warren and his friends adopted the “Whassup?” call for themselves. “There was no reason to assume the rest of the country wouldn’t react the same way,” he says.
Working off that assumption, DDB went ahead with a five-spot national campaign, which broke Dec. 27 and included an ad on Super Bowl XXXIV. Billings for the effort were undisclosed.
The film’s director, Charles Stone III, was hesitant at first about DDB’s idea. He had written, directed and acted in the two-and-a-half-minute film, which was based on his own friends, and was fearful of losing control over such a personal project.
But, as creative director Don Pogany puts it, “The original was so infectious and natural, we wanted to maintain its integrity.” Once Stone understood he’d be a sort of co-captain, he jumped on board as director.
“We had briefly considered making it multiethnic, bouncing around from one group of guys to another,” says Pogany. Instead, the team kept Stone’s original group of four.
Stone says they also maintained the message, which is the “relevance in being a couch potato [and] the hidden bond among four guys.”
But the ad needed relevance to Budweiser. Enter the product. In True, the guys respond to “Whassup?” with a pithy “Nothin’ ” or “Chillin’.” In the ad, they’re “Watchin’ the game, havin’ a Bud.”
The line, Warren points out, was perfect for the St. Louis brewer. “You couldn’t say, ‘Watchin’ the game, havin’ a Grolsch.’ “
The realism of True was preserved in the simplicity of the shots. “There’s only one master shot per character,” Stone explains. “It was important that it didn’t have different angles or become fancy or slick.”
A few changes in tone left the ad brighter than the film, and with a quicker pace. “We didn’t want the characters to seem alone, brooding and drinking alcohol,” says Stone.
As the DDB team made plans for the New York shoot, they decided to create four more spots based on the men and heavily spiced with the “Whassup?” refrain. Copy was faxed to Stone, who edited it for consistency and lingo.
In “Girlfriend,” which aired during the Super Bowl, three of the guys are watching the game in a bar, and decide to call the fourth, Dukie, at home. Dukie’s stuck watching figure skating, but gives his comrades a muffled “Whassup?” and tells them he’s watching the game, too. In “Call Waiting,” a phone conversation between Stone and his friend B is interrupted by a call from their buddies at a bar.
DDB shelved a few concepts along the way, including one Stone preferred. In it, the character Ray screens his calls with an answering machine, but picks up when he hears “Whassup?” “I was outnumbered,” Stone says. “People have different opinions, and you work it out.”
Stone realizes his first big foray into advertising was something of an anomaly. “Usually the director will only create the shoot,” he says. “I was an integral part from start to finish.”
Stone and DDB are talking about more “Whassup?” ads, possibly with new characters. As Pogany puts it, “All the stars aligned on this one.” K

Agency: DDB Chicago
Chief Creative Officer: Bob Scarpelli
Group Creative Director: Don Pogany
Associate Creative Director, Copywriter: Vinny Warren
Art Directors: Chuck Taylor, Justin Reardon
Agency Producer: Ken Kwiatt
Director: Charles Stone III Storm Films, New York
Executive Producer: Sheila Simmons
Director of Photography: John Perez
Editor: Livio Sanchez Lookinglass Santa Monica, Calif.