CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/AUGUST BUSCH IV - The man who said yes to Budweiser's 'whassup?'. August Busch scoops the highest advertiser's award at Cannes

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

average advertiser.

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

Advertising Festival.

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

flagship brand.

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

as well."