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7 Controversial Ads Budweiser Doesn't Want You to Remember

Beer marketing that missed the mark.

Nothing gets people talking like controversy. How many moments from past Super Bowl Halftime shows past do you remember other than that infamous "wardrobe malfunction" from Super Bowl XXXVIII way back in 2004? Likely not many. When it comes to advertising, though, controversy is a fine line to walk.

On the one hand, brands want people thinking and talking about their products, because when a product is on the mind, it may soon be in the checkout cart, so ads that stir things up a bit can be very successful. (Again, look to Super Bowl advertising, where the commercials often use sex appeal or over-the-top absurdity to create memorable spots.)

On the other hand, a commercial that goes too far and causes genuine offense, outrage, disgust, or otherwise angers and alienates potential customers achieves the diametric opposite of advertising's goal. Let's take a look at seven times Budweiser, an advertising heavyweight if ever there was one, missed the mark with a controversial ad that the brewer would really rather customers forget.

1

The "Up for Whatever" Bud Light campaign

The Up for Whatever Bud Light campaign
Courtesy of JMU Scholarly Commons

It's hard to imagine what Bud was thinking with the slogans they used alongside these over-the-top "reality" style of commercials in 2013. The ads featured ostensibly random people (actors, of course) being treated to amazing experiences with the taglines, "The perfect beer for whatever happens" in the ads and "The perfect beer for removing 'No' from your vocabulary for the night" on the bottles, per Penn State's RCL Blog. It's easy to imagine the whole concept being shot down in the Me Too era, though.

2

The "Typical Americans" Budweiser Super Bowl ad

The Typical Americans Budweiser Super Bowl
Free Hugs Project / YouTube

The heart was in the right place with this 2020 Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, which strove to portray the "typical American" as a heroic figure in the form of firefighters, soldiers, para-athletes, protestors, and more. The problem is that some of the real-life protest footage the commercial used was from the civil unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2016, which was precipitated by a police shooting, per the Charlotte Observer. Effectively using death and political unrest to sell beer? Not ideal.

3

Budweiser's "Born the Hard Way" immigrant tale

Budweiser's Born the Hard Way immigrant tale
Budweiser Canada / YouTube

Here is an ad that some people saw as highly inspirational, while others saw it as totally tone-deaf. Released in 2017, "Born the Hard Way" is like a mini-movie telling the story of Budweiser founder Adolphus Busch (as in Anheuser-Busch) coming to America and starting the brewery that would change American beer forever. (For better or worse is in the eye of the beholder.) In the ad, the heroic young immigrant Busch is derided by xenophobic 19th-century Americans, with one even yelling: "Go back home!" So, who hated this ad? Xenophobic 21st-century Americans, of course.

4

The "Special Delivery" corn syrup "Game of Thrones" spoof

The Special Delivery corn syrup Game of Thrones spoof
Courtesy of Superbowl Ads

Lots of people found this very high-budget 2019 Bud Light commercial hilarious. It depicts a group of brave knights and nobles from the Bud Light castle striving to deliver a misdelivered cask of corn syrup to the Miller Lite and Coors Light castles, in the process making it clear that Bud Light is not brewed with corn syrup, while the other beers are. The parent companies of Coors Light and Miller Light did not find the ad hilarious and sued over it.

5

The "Apology Bot 300" sushi spot

The Apology Bot 300 sushi spot
BetterBrandsSC / YouTube

Released in late 2007, this commercial—which was not run during a Super Bowl despite that being its original intention—was controversial for several reasons. First, it makes rather stereotypical fun of a pair of Japanese sushi chefs. Second, it makes light of the potential impending death of four diners who may have just consumed poison. And third, and a bit more anodyne, it's just not very funny.

6

The "Here We Go" dog

The Here We Go dog
awesomeTVcommercials / YouTube

This 2012 Bud Light Super Bowl commercial featured an overworked little dog who had been trained to fetch a Bud Light every time someone called out "Here we go!" which was the beer brand's slogan at the time, per Huff Post. What's intended as a cute and clever ad actually depicts a pet being used as a servant. Plus, like the previous ad, it's just not all that funny of a spot.

7

Budweiser's "Tune Out" ad

Budweiser's Tune Out ad
CBS / YouTube

This 2004 commercial features a stolid NFL referee standing calm and still as an angered coach screams into his ears. The football game's announcers wonder aloud how the ref can take such verbal abuse with such equanimity until there's a match cut to the ref sitting on a couch at home being screamed at by an irate wife. The humor here is… what? A loveless, ostensibly emotionally abusive relationship where tuning out mentally is the only solution aside from or along with, it's implied, drinking? A swing and a miss.

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Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more
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