Ever notice Budweiser doesn’t actually show their product in their commercials? How does one sell a thing without even talking about it? Budweiser has learned something very important about human psychology. Feelings are more moving than rational lists, and we are moved most easily by stories. Budweiser has chosen, perhaps, the strongest of human feelings, that of connection.
Savvy as they are, Budweiser has designed their Super Bowl commercial such that each moment shows connection or makes you feel it somehow. One may count 15 instances in the 60 second airing. The short story of the commercial has an escaped puppy quickly become friends with a horse he found in a barn. They are forcibly separated and then reunited. Many of Budweiser’s recent commercials have this same theme of reconnection after separation. For example, this year’s second big Super Bowl commercial involved a soldier, separated by war returning home to his loved ones and a surprise parade thrown in his honor. Also, in the 2013 Super Bowl advert, Budweiser has a young Clivesdale separated from his caretaker, only to be reunited with him later at a parade. That kind of story can be very moving. Perhaps your mind has already wandered to a time when you were separated from those you hold dear . . . and how good did it feel to reconnect with them after that absence?
Having a moving story isn’t enough. A successful advertiser needs to tie the story to its product. How did Budweiser do it successfully without ever showing its product? Remember how Audi and their Dober-Huahua commercial failed miserably even with showing it’s product for a sustained 12 seconds? The answer deals with association and metaphor.
Budweiser has spent a lot of money training us to associate certain things with them. In the soldier’s parade commercial, no one had a clue as to what the ad was about until a certain moment. All that we needed to be shown was a horse’s leg in the parade. For many people, it clicked immediately whose commercial was playing. The Clivesdales have become Budweiser. We no longer need to see the product if we see the horse.
The association is strategic both in imagery and metaphor. First, in association, the horses themselves already somewhat resemble a pitcher of Bud. They both share that warm brown color in their body, and the horses have white trimmings like the foamy head of good beer. Red is also an important color. The horses are often pulling a red wagon or are shown with a subtle red harness. This relates us to the red of the Budweiser beer can. Second, in metaphor, the horses are often shown as a team of 4. This is a metaphor of connection, and as we look at that team, we might feel some degree of what it is like to be so close and in concert with them, to be part of that team.
Now that we understand how the Clivesdales became Budweiser, we can appreciate the deeper levels of influence in the commercials. This happens in metaphor. The puppy finds a Clivesdale and immediately has a connection with it. The horse is certainly our Bud, so that puts us, the viewer, as the puppy. The puppy is then torn away from our horse friend, and we actually feel some pangs there. The commercial focuses on the sad puppy eyes, and we aren’t made of stone. The puppy attempts to be with his friend and is thwarted 3 times in rapid succession. Note that this is a quick repetition technique similar to Hyundai’s commercial where they showed 6 instances of Super Dad saving the day in 15 seconds. It is really being hammered in via metaphor that we are being kept away from our beloved beer.
Puppy and friend are finally reunited. It is no accident that it is Budweiser’s iconic team of four Clivesdales bring the puppy back as it was being whisked away in a car. In metaphor, we now have Budweiser as savior/hero reconnecting us with our dear friend, who also just happens to be Budweiser.
It should be becoming clear how many levels down these adverts can work in our minds. This author has a distaste for beer and most alcohol. However, after repeatedly watching the advert many times over in preparation for this article, I can’t deny there is now something like an affection for the beer. It is a curious thing.
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