Super Bowl Ad Sequels Often Fail, but Can Budweiser’s Puppy Break the Trend?

With follow-up to last year's No. 1 hit, brewer faces the tough task of topping itself

With any rule, there are exceptions, but generally, revisiting a popular Super Bowl ad is dicey. Rarely does the sequel surpass the original.

Volkswagen's "The Force" from Deutsch Los Angeles was a huge hit in 2011 and has since tallied 60 million YouTube views. But what about its successor, "The Dog Strikes Back," in 2012? That one fell so flat, it's not even on VW's YouTube channel anymore.

Even more infamously: TBWA\Chiat\Day's Orwellian "1984" for Apple is generally considered the best Super Bowl ad of all time. But the follow-up, "Lemmings" in 1985, may be among the worst. (You can watch them both below.)

Given that history, ad veterans naturally question Anheuser-Busch's decision to go back to the well this year with "Lost Dog," a sequel to last year's most popular ad, "Puppy Love."

Yes, the puppy-Clydesdale friendship was advertising gold, but will it be as charming the second time around? Budweiser vp Brian Perkins certainly thinks so, but others are skeptical. Why? Because even in the age of prereleasing Big Game ads, Super Bowl viewers simply crave something new every year.

"When you give a client a 'puppy'—which is a great concept—they love it. And what they do is, they squeeze it to death. They just love it so hard, they squeeze it to death," said Jim Ferguson, a Super Bowl ad veteran (having worked on McDonald's "Nothing but Net" and Tabasco's "Mosquito") and former creative director at Leo Burnett and DDB. "They fall in love with their stuff. They want to see it again, and they think people want to see it again and they fucking don't, you know?"

In Ferguson's view, you can't top the original, so why try? Also, unlike, say, a feature film, a 30- or 60-second commercial is simply too thin to build on.

"I wouldn't want to be the one to stretch that DNA," said Luke Sullivan, advertising department chairman at Savannah College of Art and Design, longtime creative at GSD&M and Fallon, and author of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. "They're going back to the same well. You know what? It could even work if they gave it a two-, three-year break, invented something new and then came back with it. We'd all miss it, and it would feel new again."

That said, A-B is a master marketer and with "Puppy Love" found a way to top the "Brotherhood" Clydesdale trainer ad of 2013. So, if the new execution is different enough, A-B may end up getting the last laugh. After all, the agency (Anomaly) and director (Jake Scott) are still in place and certainly understand the challenge before them.

"It's about great storytelling," asserted Budweiser's Perkins. "The story will be fresh, engaging and in line with the standards we set with 'Brotherhood' and 'Puppy Love.'"

Complicating the brewer's challenge, however, is how people watch the ads—often in crowds at parties where alcohol is flowing and you have just a few seconds to win them over. That dynamic in and of itself cries out for something unexpected, said Suzanne Powers, global chief strategy officer at McCann WorldGroup.

"It's a moment in time where you're just trying to get attention in an interesting way," Powers said. "You have to have some sort of little twist with it, or else you haven't earned the attention that you should be getting. If it's just the same old, it's like, 'Ehh, I'll go back to my chips and dip now, open another beer.'"

Of course, some ad characters or mascots come back to the Big Game not just once but many times, becoming an ongoing campaign like the Etrade baby, "GoDaddy girl," CareerBuilder chimpanzees or Budweiser's own Clydesdales. So there's always a chance Bud's puppy could do the same.

Another related trend has been the extension of popular non-Super Bowl ads into the Big Game, such as when Cheerios brought back the interracial family from its standard TV buy for a warmly received appearance in 2014's game. Similarly, Budweiser's addictive "Whassup" ads began as a standard television campaign but built steam until it got a national spotlight in the 2000 Super Bowl.

But elevating a popular campaign to the Super Bowl is one thing. Recapturing the glory of an ad that's already topped the Big Game charts is something else entirely.

Robert Thompson, for one, isn't counting out A-B and Anomaly, particularly if they execute well. Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University, understands that "Puppy Love" is a tough act to follow. But, he said, "In the end, it is whether it is a really good ad. And that isn't science."  

If you'd like to revisit some of the more notorious Super Bowl ad sequels, check out the originals and follow-ups from Apple and Volkswagen below:

Original: Apple's "1984"

Sequel: Apple's "Lemmings"

Original: Volkswagen's "The Force"

Sequel: Volkswagen's "The Dog Strikes Back"

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