The most successful beer marketers in the world have crossed a line. According to AdAge, a pun is “the final frontier” in “tasteless” beer advertising. In a spot for Bud Light Lime leaked on the Internet, everyday folks innocently confess to getting it “in the can” (some of them like it and want to do so again!). The punch line of the spot reveals that the popular brew is now available in all-too-familiar handy aluminum containers.
Careful viewers, students of comedy and those familiar with the rigors of reader-response criticism will know that AdAge’s reaction to the spot reveals more about the uptight folks there than either DDB Chicago, which created the spot, or Bud Light Lime brand managers. Far from being “tasteless,” the spot never speaks its alleged naughtiness. The same certainly cannot be said for Hardee’s “Name Our Holes” spot. In fact, all potential bad taste is left entirely in the viewer’s mind (or seat) — and even that is reversed with the punch line of the spot. We were wrong; it isn’t naughty at all.
In both implicating its viewers and absolving them at the same time, the Bud Light Lime spot does what all excellent comedy does. We know this well, having been steeped in both South Park and Sarah Silverman; our interpretations are far more worthy of scold than the jokes themselves (sometimes). Or, more bluntly: who is the greater racist? The teller of the offensive joke, or he who laughed a bit too hard at it? The same is true for this spot. The viewer, perhaps, has replaced “it” with “sex” and “in the can” with “anal.” Funny, though, I personally know a Canadian viewer who thought the spot was referencing sneaking a beer “in the toilet.” She did not get the spot; explaining it was a hint awkward. AdAge might note: puns are cultural material, and for that reason, they do resonate with relevance.
But enough with the close reading (so annoying to pay attention to the details!). Let’s assume AdAge is right to be offended. If so, that simply makes them old. As in “not with it.” As in “don’t understand the guys and the gals.” As in “can’t really help their own readers any longer.” Maybe they are bitter that the scrappy AdRants beat them to the punch, with much humor in tact, days earlier? Regardless, let’s move on from the comedy of manners at AdAge and update a few views, uncomfortable as they may be for some.
According to one study, 90 per cent of 8-16 year olds have viewed pornography online (surely the numbers are even higher for those of legal beer drinking age). And, since 1992, the number of heterosexuals having anal sex has doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control. If we can bring ourselves to it, let’s suspend judgment and simply accept the facts, while also recalling that Lucy and Ricky could not be seen sleeping in the same bed. And the word “pregnant” could not be said on television either, at one point. (Yes, regrettably, the lowering of these absurd standards did all lead directly to “Rock of Love.”).
Beyond facts and figures, what is the zeitgeist in which today’s bright young things swim? Porn is mainstream. Period. Seth Rogen & Company brought “Superbad” to “must-see” status on the back of one porno-pun-reference after another (and a book of phalluses in extremis). Prior to that he made “Knocked Up,” a title unprintable a generation ago. His follow up was “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” There’s a reason he is (along with producer Judd Apatow) considered one of the most relevant and intelligent comedians of his age: he tells honest coming-of-age stories, and in so doing removes the shame most of us inherited from Plymouth Rock. One might also note that Jason Mraz, who recently made chart history with a 71-week run at the top, also has the cultural cool and currency to ironically sing that “Nintendo be givin’ me the blister / Bend over take it in the keister.”
What might have been “tasteless” even a decade ago, and surely beyond mention just a generation past, is now part of daily life. Far from shocking, it is entertaining. The guys and gals: they love this stuff. The 22-year-olds buying beer: they love this stuff. It’s not tasteless for them; it’s a nudge and a wink and a giggle. Their own voices and senses of humor have been echoed back to them. The joke lets everyone laugh (except AdAge, it seems).
For an agency (which I generally find irrelevant these days) and a large multinational to track with the times is, in many ways, remarkable. Brands are containers of culture and meaning, and that means they are as malleable as their own consumers. Good brand managers follow the cultural dialogue (and also know what is appropriate for the Net and not appropriate for TV). Trying to hold onto things, to control them, to not “go with the flow” and change with the times. Well, we call that an anal personality. Dr. Freud can handle that one with the folks at AdAge.
Full disclosure: Anheuser-Busch InBev is a client of Patrick Davis Partners, publishers of Unbound Edition.
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culturalSeptember 16, 2014
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