Possibly the most enduring Super Bowl advertising campaign of all time was the Bud Bowl, in which football-playing longneck bottles taught us how to love watery, American-made beer once again.
Who were the ad wizards who came up with that one, you ask? One of them was Grant Pace, who is now a partner for the Boston public relations firm Conover, Tuttle & Pace, but at the time, in 1988, was a struggling copywriter for an advertising agency in St. Louis. Here he tells us how the Bud Bowl was created, about the two alternate endings to Bud Bowl I that never made it on the air (one shown to the left), and how they couldn't have done any of it without the quite possibly insane creators of Pee Wee's Playhouse.
DS: So how did the Bud Bowl come to be? Who invests millions in an ad campaign that features tiny beer bottles playing football?
GP: It was early in my career; I was a struggling copywriter in St. Louis working for an ad agency, DMB&B (D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles), which actually isn't there anymore. We were right in the shadow of the arch. I came in as a junior guy, and was working on the crappy accounts, like naming microwaveable pizza products. But we also had all of the Budweiser business. The Bud group was the group where all the cool people worked.
DS: What year was that?
GP: It was 1988; for the 1989 Super Bowl. I had created and sold a beer spot that everyone liked, and they brought me in to work on the Super Bowl campaign. August Busch III, who was running the company then, said that he wanted to "own the Super Bowl." This was before anyone was doing multiple spots, and we bought six; one at the beginning, one during each quarter and one at the end. So then we had to figure out, how are we going to own the game?
DS: Why the Bud Bowl?
GP: We had been working on some other stop-motion concepts, and wanted to stick with that. It had to be something that you had to follow. We wanted to do something with the bottles being alive, and just came up with this game between Bud and Bud Light, and you had to watch each segment to find out what happened. And indeed people did. I hear stories about Super Bowl parties, and how everyone got quiet when the Bud Bowl came on. They were talking during the game, but not during the commercial. It was one of the first integrated promotions. There were displays in stores with miniature football fields, Letterman lampooned us one night when he had Bob Costas on the show, saying "Beer bottles playing football; it's the end of civilization as we know it." Danny Sheridan at USA Today actually ran a line on it. It remains to this day the most successful promotion ever in the beverage industry.
DS: It was actual stop-motion photography, right?
GP: Yeah. To make the bottle move you took each one and cranked it by hand inch by inch; it took eight hours to create three seconds of actual footage. The six spots took six months. It was created by a company called Broadcast Arts, a bunch of bizarre animators from New York who were responsible for Pee Wee's Playhouse. They were geniuses at that; all the little things they did. You saw hippies in the stands as water bottles, a beer bottle wearing a rainbow wig, someone holding up a 'Bud 3:16' sign; all those little things you don't notice the first time you see it.
DS: What's the part of Bud Bowl I that most people seem to remember?
GP: One of the coaches, 'Beer Bryant.' He actually wore a little houndstooth hat.
DS: How did Bud Bowl I end?
GP: An 8-ounce bottle came in and kicked a field goal for Bud to win it. But that's not the original ending. Our first ending was, just before the kick, the refrigerator door opens and a hand reaches in and grabs two bottles. And you hear Bob Costas and Paul Maguire, who were the voices of the announcers, screaming "What happened? Someone call the police!" We showed it to August Busch and he was confused. "But how does it end?" He told us to go back and give it an ending.
DS: Was there another ending?
GP: Yeah, and this was our favorite. Right before the kick, the broadcast cuts away to the movie Heidi. It was in reference to the Heidi Bowl. That was the first time a client ever came around and high-fived me at a meeting. We all loved that ending.
DS: What happened?
GP: We couldn't get it by NBC. We took it to them, all excited, but we hadn't figured the the head of NBC was Michael Wiseman, who had also been in charge when the original Heidi Bowl occurred. I guess he still had a wound on his ass from that game. "You want to bring up the Heidi Bowl during our Super Bowl, on my network? No way, no how."
How did it go over initially?
Great. We moved a lot of beer. But looking back, it was quite a gamble. The 49ers played the Bengals that year, and fortunately the game went down to the wire. Our whole series of spots was built on keeping the viewer engaged until the end, and if the game was over at halftime, it might have been a disaster. Thank God it was a good game.
DS: What did you do next?
GP: That was the only Bud Bowl I worked on. I cashed out from the notoriety, and went and did the New York ad agency thing, with the corner office and all that. I really couldn't picture myself doing another one anyway; I had written every bad beer bottle football pun known to man.
DS: What are the weirdest ads you've ever produced?
GP: That had to be the stuff we did for an Australian company, SmartBeep. They made pagers, back when they were all the rage. They told us, "We don't care what you do, as long as the ads make the phones ring." So we came up with spots like the fart girl.
DS: What are your favorite Super Bowl ads of recent years?
GP: I really like the stuff that Emerald Nuts does, believe it or not. They strike a good balance between humor and message. And the Budweiser Clydesdales playing football; those are just fantastic. And this year Miller is using a series of one-second spots throughout the game, and I'm really interested to see how those will go over.