The idea behind the 1999 ‘‘Whassup?!’’ commercials was pretty simple. The original ‘‘Whassup True’’ ad featured four friends talking to each other on the phone and greeting each other with the phrase ‘‘Whassup?!’’ The answer ‘‘Watching the game, Having a Bud’’ was met with ‘‘True, true,’’ on the other side of the line before the conversation was joined by others escalating into a series of ‘‘Whassups?!’’ To the surprise of its creators, the internet took the campaign and ran with it. Within months of its release, the internet was flooded with parodies featuring movie superheroes, people in the news and other random settings and variations all greeting each other with the signature ‘‘Whassup?!’’ The phrase became so popular that it turned into a common greeting and made its way into pop culture. As a result of its popularity, the campaign won major industry awards in its original form as well as its later versions running until 2001.
The main ingredient in the recipe for this ad used by Budweiser to engage its target 21-27-year-old population of varied demographics was the universal principle of friendship. Even though the ads featured mostly African-American men using slang from minority communities, the universality of the message attracted viewers from all types of backgrounds and demographic divisions. The success of the message was reflected in the numerous follow-up amateur videos as well as in the interest of mainstream media.
The ad was built from an existing short film called True created by music-video director Charles Stone III. It was not created with marketing targets in mind but rather was simply a feature film. However, when the DDB Chicago’s creative director discovered the film True, he immediately recognized its potential and recommended it for the Budweiser campaign. Notably, the ad actually features the film’s creator Stone who also sat in the director’s chair. Many actors were auditioned for the parts of Stone’s friends, but the final version casts Stone’s real-life friends except for one.
The ad, titled “Whassup?!” debuted on Monday Night Football in December 1999 and aired during Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. It won countless advertising awards, including a Cannes Grand Prix, and entered the pantheon of iconic American ads — becoming arguably one of the most well known Super Bowl commercials in history.
The campaign was praised for its ability to turn itself into a cultural touchstone. It far exceeded its initial impact expectations – the phrase‘ ‘Whassup?!’’ even appeared on the cover of Forbes. To provide a couple of examples of how pervasive this phrase became in society, the commercials were imitated by Christina Aguilera and LeVar Burton at the 2000 Grammy Awards and the Sacramento Kings used the ‘‘Whassup?!’’ cry during their 2000 NBA season.
The ‘‘Whassup?!’’ campaign made history by becoming one of the most acclaimed and popular campaigns in advertising. During its second year, Busch, the creator of the campaign, was named the Advertiser of the Year at the Cannes festival. The notoriety of the signature phrase earned it comparisons to classic advertising phrases like McDonald’s ‘‘I’m lovin it’’ and Nike’s ‘‘Just Do It.’’ Based on the number of appearances on TV and in newspapers, it is estimated that ‘‘Whassup?!’’ had generated approximately $20 million in free publicity. Whatsmore, this estimate does not include publicity garnered on the Internet, which the agency said it had no way of tracking.
The ad saw a comeback eight years after it first aired when Stone recreated it using the original 2008 ‘‘Whassup?!’’ cast. This time used for political endorsement, the two-minute film heavily criticized the presidency of George W. Bush and showed clear support for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. This video was nominated for the Favorite User-Generated Video award at the 35th People’s Choice Awards.
“The Media Business: Advertising; Whassup? America’sAsking” New York Times, Feb. 16, 2001.
“Budweiser – The Story of WHASSUP?! “ This is not ADVERTISING, Sept. 1, 2011.
“’Wassup’ commercial returns with same cast, political twist” The Colorado Independent, Oct 24, 2008.
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