Dude? (Do you live in a cave?)
If you haven't seen any of the ubiquitous Bud Light "Dude" commercials, you may not understand the following commentary: "Dude?" But imagine this monosyllabic line being delivered by a twenty-something, ex-frat guy-looking "dude" with equal measures of disbelief, disappointment and slacker cool, and you've got a better understanding of what it means. Now, envision this line -- and only this line -- repeated with multiple inflections and intonations as a reaction to a variety of daily circumstances in the dude's life.
The word communicates anything and everything from, "You're sitting too close to me on the couch" to "I can't believe my flight has been cancelled" to "Check it out -- it's Fox announcer Joe Buck" to "I'm totally bummed that the stadium beer concession closed before I could order another Bud Light."
Now, you've got a pretty good idea of what the whole "Dude" campaign is about.
The campaign's ads, like past Bud Light campaigns such as "Whassup?" and "I Love You, Man," are humorous, topical and aimed primarily at young men of drinking age. But this time around, Anheuser-Busch decided to take things a step further by offering up its popular campaign to the general public. And the results were impressive -- even by Bud Light standards.
Dude. (Submit an entry)
The offering took place in the form of a call for entries of consumer-generated "Dude" ads. Creators of the videos selected by Anheuser-Busch would be paid $5,000 each for their efforts. Along with the cash, they'd also get exposure in a highly visible online ad campaign. Bud Light would get fresh video content for a very reasonable price. Brokering the deal was XLNTads, a Philadelphia-based company that specializes in connecting brands with a network of over 5,000 video creators.
[Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be pointed out that iMedia's founder and CEO is also a founder of and investor in XLNTads.]
XLNTads posted the assignment, which included a creative brief, release forms and all the necessary assets, such as the Bud Light animated logo and the "Dude" music track on its website. Anyone interested in submitting an entry could download these materials after reading and agreeing to the assignment's terms and conditions. Creators then had until March 31 to submit their masterpieces. The videos selected by Anheuser-Busch (a hockey-themed spot and an animated spot featuring ants) were posted on Bud Light's March Madness website and can still be seen, along with the four agency-produced spots, on their Dude Madness site.
Dude. (Extend your brand)
So why would an advertising behemoth like Anheuser-Busch want to offer up a slick, successful campaign from a heavy-hitting agency like DDB of Chicago to the general public? According to Bud Light Director Rick Leininger, the decision was all about extending the brand.
"The XLNTads initiative was a great way for us to extend our Bud Light Dude campaign while staying in tune with pop culture," Leininger said. "Working with XLNTads, we were able to tap into their network of video contributors to generate a bigger take on the Bud Light Dude concept."
Staying in tune with pop culture and actively seeking input from end users appears to be part of a concerted effort by brands to appease younger consumers, a lesson Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times claims advertisers are quickly learning. In his April 27 piece on the campaign, titled "Dude! Like Those Ads Live Forever," Itzkoff writes, "For their creators and the brewery behind them, the spots have provided a different lesson: that young consumers are using the internet and other technologies to express the ways they want to receive (and even control) advertising, and it's up to advertisers to hear this message."
Dude. (It was, like, a perfect match)
If the "Dude" concept seemed to Anheuser-Busch like a good candidate for consumer-generated takes, it may be because the concept itself was developed in a less traditional manner. "Dude" originated not from an agency but from two outside writers, Clay Weiner and Kenny Herzog, who made a short film of the concept, mainly for their own amusement. Then, as Itzkoff explains in his Times article, through a contact at DDB Chicago, the primary advertising agency that handles Budweiser and Bud Light, Herzog and Weiner were able to get their film seen by executives at Anheuser-Busch.
The executives obviously liked what they saw. And so did the public. According to Itzkoff, the original "Dude" spot has been viewed over two million times on YouTube alone, and all four agency-produced "Dude" ads have been viewed a total of more than 13.5 million times on YouTube, MSN.com and other online sites featuring video. Throw in television viewership, and it's a wonder the word "dude" has not yet supplanted "the" as the most used word in the English language.
Clearly the "Dude" ads possess something that appeals to people -- a quality XLNTads' Neil Perry equates to transcendence. "When you look at the Bud Light campaign, people are waiting for the next Bud Light commercial to come out because the population, in general, has been very much enamored with the fun-ness of this guy, the humor of the writing and the way it transcends all sorts of occasions and opportunities,” Perry said.
It's the concept's wide appeal, according to Bud Light's Rick Leininger, that made consumer-generated takes such a natural next step. "The concept behind Bud Light's 'Dude' has such universal appeal that extending the campaign with a user-generated initiative was a natural evolution," he said. "We felt the XLNTads project provided an organic way to generate fresh takes and expand on the already successful 'Dude' message while tying it back to Bud Light.”
Dude? (Any concerns?)
Fresh takes are great, but what about the possibility that consumer-generated content could go too far, or not adequately represent the brand, or even water it down? Having control over which ads would ultimately be seen by the public helped alleviate any trepidation Bud Light may have had.
"We provided the creative elements, including the music and logos for consistency, and ultimately, we had final approval on all submissions," Leininger said.
As for any concerns Bud Light may have had regarding the quality of consumer-generated content, Perry explained that those concerns were quickly overcome as submissions rolled in.
"If you look at the current four Bud Light 'Dude' commercials that were produced by their agency, and compare them to our top 10 versions, I think you'll be remarkably surprised at how competitive ours are from a professionalism, acting, editing and sound point of view," Perry said.
Perry attributes the high quality of the "Dude" submissions to the fact that, unlike destination websites like YouTube, which are outlets for virtually any video produced, XLNTads.com is visited primarily by professional and semi-professional videographers actively seeking assignments. Which begs the question, are brands truly getting consumer-generated takes, or just more professionally produced content, albeit from smaller production houses?
"The assignments are open to anyone who wants to submit," Perry said. "Typically, what happens is someone who happens to like beer, or thinks Bud Light commercials are really cool -- they're the ones who would choose to work on that program. So it's very similar to consumer-generated content, which is to let the consumer do the ad. But we have a higher level of consumer, if you will. The quality of what we get is quite a bit different than what you'd see posted on YouTube."
However, a lack of production value does not appear to be preventing YouTubers from creating and posting their own "Dude" takes. Entering "Bud Light" and "Dude" into YouTube's search engine yields 172 results as of the writing of this article. Some of these are the agency-produced spots and XLNTads submissions, but there are also a lot of unofficial parodies, many with themes clearly not endorsed by Anheuser-Busch.
One of the racier videos -- for a different kind of "bud"-- features a cast of African-American males who substitute the word "dude" with the N-word. It ends with the message: "Smoke Responsibly." Not exactly messaging approved by Anheuser-Busch, but consumer generated nonetheless. But for a parody to work, no matter how racy or off-message it is, there needs to be some brand awareness, so even these unofficial takes are, in theory, promoting the brand.
Dude? (What’s next?)
So will Bud Light, based on its experience with "Dude," look to use consumer-generated content on future campaigns?
"We're certainly open to incorporating user-generated content when and where it fits the goals of a particular campaign," Leininger said. "Though there are no concrete plans for the next user-generated initiative, we're constantly exploring opportunities as our Bud Light consumers turn to the web for an increasing amount of news and entertainment."
One place on the web Anheuser-Busch hopes its consumers turn for entertainment is BudTV, a destination site for beer drinkers. It features original comedy, sports, and web video entertainment, including, you guessed it, user-generated content. Currently, the only user-generated show on the website is called "Have Some Fun With It," a series of short films in which snarky hosts Stan and Phil take a video camera, a Bud Light bottle, and unsuspecting strangers, "combining them with hilarious results." The hilarity of the results may be up for debate, but the direction the series is taking seems to be the future of user-generated content, according to Perry.
"I think the next big thing is going to be short, entertaining video content," Perry said. "Short pieces of film, say two to five minutes, that have interesting characters, crisp writing and fun story lines. And brands are going to sponsor it.... I think that's where a lot of these video producers that we work with are going to evolve. They're going to become almost short film makers."
Considering all of the possibilities and future applications of consumer-generated video, one word comes to mind. (Hint: it starts with a D and rhymes with food.) Feel free to say it with the inflection that most appropriately summarizes the way you feel it will affect you.
Sean P. Egen has been a senior writer for EarthLink, Experian, and SureFire, LLC. He currently works as a freelance writer and filmmaker in Orange County, California.