Alligators, lizards, croaking frogs and friends bleating
nonsensically at each other down the telephone might not initially seem
profitable advertising avenues, but then August A Busch IV is not your
Which is precisely why Busch, the group vice-president, marketing and
wholesale operations, of the brewing dynasty Anheuser-Busch, has been
named Advertiser of the Year at this year's Cannes International
The award honours the consistently excellent creative work that has
turned around a slump in sales for Budweiser and reinforced the Busch
family's domination of the US brewing industry.
Indeed, you'd have to have been living under a stone to have missed the
international cultural phenomenon that came in the shape of the
universally recognised "whassup?" campaign.
The spots might have been a risk at the time, but the phenomenon spawned
by the catchphrase has, crucially, translated into beer sales.
Romain Hatchuel, the chief executive of the Cannes Lions, says: "The
criteria we use for this distinction is advertisers who have
consistently produced very strong campaign advertising for a substantial
period of time. And also advertisers who have done so with a strong
involvement of the client himself, not only the agency. From what we
know of the co-operation between Anheuser-Busch and DDB Chicago, this is
completely the case."
The evidence speaks for itself. Budweiser's inimitable "Louie the
Lizard" campaign through Goodby Silverstein won a silver Lion at the
1998 Cannes Festival. And in 2000 the "whassup?" campaign won both the
prestigious Grand Prix at Cannes and the Grand Clio in New York.
For the past three years Anheuser-Busch ads have won the top spot in the
USA Today Super Bowl "ad meter" poll, in which consumers rank the game's
best ads. And the 36-year-old Busch has succeeded in expanding the
company's US market share by nearly 50 per cent.
"Well, you have to hand it to August for taking chances," Charles Stone
III, the director and star of the "whassup?" campaign, says. "I was
immediately impressed by his enthusiasm in embracing my short film. I
think August's risk-taking magic lies in his connection to the
youthfulness in adults as well as in himself. He also maintains a solid
balance of history, humour and humanity in the brand's advertising.
August obviously enjoys life because it shows in the brand's image."
Beer might be in the blood for Busch, but his career was by no means
handed to him on a silver platter. Despite being heir apparent to the
world's largest brewer, he started out as a lowly intern in the yeast
department, moving on to be a brewing apprentice, then later a foreman
in packaging and shipping. However, since taking over Budweiser's
marketing in 1992, he has made it his mission to slow the decline of the
Busch has appeared in Budweiser ads, talking with his father, August
Busch III, about the heritage and quality of the brand. The spots were
part one of a long line positioning Anheuser-Busch as a family company
with a tradition of quality product, as opposed to its more corporate
brewer rivals. Busch, however, was not content to simply continue
churning out these Waltons-style messages. And he was in a position to
persuade his dad that traditional Budweiser ads featuring shire horses
and fields of golden wheat would not be enough to halt the slump in
sales. In 1995 he moved the business out of D'Arcy St Louis after 80
The shake-up of Budweiser's advertising arrangements allowed Goodby
Silverstein and DDB Chicago to begin the process of contemporising the
brand. In 1996 the company started introducing animal-themed spots. At
the time, certain reservations were expressed by onlookers as to how
such a departure could continue championing Budweiser's quality. Frogs
croaking "Bud ... weis ... er" were a massive departure for the brand,
but Busch's understanding of youth triumphed, and a good thing that it
"August has great instincts about marketing and advertising," Bob
Scarpelli, the chairman of DDB Chicago, says. "He has an intuitive sense
of what's going to sell beer and build the brand. He's willing to try
things that may seem kind of crazy because he understands that we're not
only putting out a brand message, but we also have to entertain people