In today’s episode of Marketers Talking Marketing Over Coffee, we have Robert Lachky, former Chief Creative at Anheuser-Busch. Robert is one of the most well respected creatives in the marketing world and was the man behind some of the most iconic marketing campaigns over the past 30 years.
Adam Heitzman: Today, I’m excited to have the man behind some of the most recognizable and iconic marketing campaigns over the past 30 years. From Budweiser Frogs, to ‘Whassup?’, ‘I love you, man.’, and the Real Men of Genius, former chief creative officer at Anheuser Busch, Mr.Bob Lachky. Bob, thanks for being here.
Robert Lachky: Adam, my pleasure. Looking forward to talking to you.
Adam Heitzman: Thank you. Would you mind starting off and telling me a little about your background, how you got started in the marketing and advertising world?
Robert Lachky: Sure. In college, I went to University of Illinois. And I also went to grad school there. I was pretty focused at that time, on a career in advertising. They had a good advertising program. It was kind of unique in the country at the time. I think Michigan State, and there were a couple others schools at that time that had programs like that. That’s what I pursued. When I got out, I started right away at an old line big agency on Michigan Avenue in Chicago called Foote Cone and Belding. They no longer exist. They’ve evolved through all the mergers that happened in the 90’s. But I started there. And I moved over to the original Needham, Harper, and Steers, which slowly but surely became DDP Needham, and etc, all these iterations and new agencies.
I learned the business from the agency side. One of my clients, when I was in my young career as an account executive, I was not a creative person. I knew I had some skill in that area. But I wasn’t as good as a real good writer or an art director would be in the old traditional agency structure. I always wanted to be an account management person. My career took a big change when I actively campaigned for a job at Needham, Harper, and Steers, because they had the McDonald’s account. That’s a business that I really respected. I always followed campaigns. Ever since I was a kid I just was into that. I guess I was a TV person. I watched TV all the time. When I got in McDonald’s, it was a great experience. To me, that was like big time, big time advertiser, great client, being based in Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicago. It was great to work at a company that was based there as well.
But that was pretty short lived. It lasted a year. And we lost the business to Leo Burnett. And it was a whole other story you could write a book about. That’s when I got on to Needham, Harper, and Steers the previous year. But I really didn’t have a place to go. I thought I was going to get let go. Needham, Harper, and Steers, under the tutelage of Keith Reinhard, who is a legend in the advertising business, a creative guy. He actually saved everybody’s jobs that worked on the McDonald’s business and put us to work on pitching a piece of business from Anheuser Busch. Needham, Harper, and Steers at that time did have a small piece of business called Busch Beer. But they were pitching for the new light beer called Budweiser Light. And I worked on that pitch team. And I was young. I was certainly not instrumental in winning the business, which we did. But when we won the business, my job was saved. And I started working on Anheuser Busch, Bud Light.
Adam Heitzman: From an account management?
Robert Lachky: I did that for years. Long story short, coming to an end, finally, we ended up winning the business, changing some campaigns to finally get it into the mainstream. And about that time, Anheuser Busch had a fairly major transition in the late 80’s in their own ranks. They had a bit of a scandal that occurred where some executives were taking kickbacks from [inaudible 00:03:55] And Mr.Busch kind of cleaned house and was very reticent to get marketing people from the inside. He wanted people from the outside. I was about as far outside as you could be and still be in. So the hired me to be the Bud Light brand manager. And the rest is history. I started there in 19, late 88. Fortunately for me, I worked underneath August Busch the 4th from the very beginning. He was my Boss. We worked alongside actually, for the first year or two as he was coming into the company. That was really the greatest lucky I could have had, is to work alongside him first, get to know him. And then as he progressed ahead of me, he brought me along with him.
That’s how I got there. And that’s how I ended up at AB.
Adam Heitzman: Sure. Do you feel like the fact that you were on the agency side first actually benefited you somewhat, starting to work for the brand?
Robert Lachky: Absolutely. That was, to me, the lucky break of all time. My feelings about advertising were just about the creative development process. Although I was an account manager, on the account management side, even today, I would venture in agencies, you’re not really a business manager. You’re really a client liaison. When they recruited me, when they wanted me to come to their company, Anheuser Busch, I was very nervous, very reticent to do it. I really didn’t have the PNL, traditional MBA training that all my counterparts would have. I didn’t know a confidence in myself. They didn’t really care about that. They wanted my advertising skill. That’s what Mr.Busch said when he interviewed me. He said, “I want you to come here. We need help.”
They were having a problem with the Budweiser Light roll out. The brand was not getting traction. Miller Lite was kicking their fanny. I was charged with bringing Bud Light back from an advertising perspective. I was very lucky that was the skill set they wanted as nervous as I was, “Can I handle the business side, and the pricing, and all the things that go along with truly managing a brand?”
Adam Heitzman: Correct me if I’m wrong. You just somewhat mentioned it. Anheuser Busch was not the leader it is today back when you originally started. A lot of that growth happened with a lot of the marketing that was done over the last 20 to 30 years.
Robert Lachky: Actually, yes and no. Yes, in the light category, we were in our infancy, because Miller Lite had a 10 year had start on us. And Coors Light was already on the market as well. As an overall company, yes, AB was still the master, the giant of the industry. But I’ll tell you, they were stagnant in circa 1988, 89. Budweiser was starting to get eaten into by the light beers of which AB did not have. They had Natural Light, which was kind of a college beer at the time. It still is. Natty Light, right?
Adam Heitzman: That’s right. Everybody loved Natty Light.
Robert Lachky: They ended up not having enough volume, and certainly not heading where the business was heading. Budweiser was starting to get knocked around. This is in the late 80’s. Yes, they were still the largest American brewer. There was not really any craft business at all in the country at that time. There were imports, the Heineken of the world, Stella, and all those guys were coming in. But AB’s real problem was not having an established light beer. That was where the problem was at that period in time.
Adam Heitzman: Sure. Shifting focus slightly, you kind of mentioned his name earlier. I don’t know if this would be that person. Who would you consider to be your single biggest influencer as a marketer?
Robert Lachky: It’s really August Busch the 3rd. August Busch the 3rd was the chairman at that time in the succession. It was like a monarchy. For a public company to have that much family influence is kind of remarkable. Many books have been written about it. August Busch the 3rd was really the guy that was instrumental in me coming to Anheuser Busch. He really didn’t know me. I was just an agency guy. I was so far down the chain of his awareness when I was working on his business, servicing his company. When he knew who I was and my skill set, we became good friends, as far as you can be a friend with him. Let’s put it that way. He’s a great guy. But I still see him today.
His son was the next most important influence. Although he’s a little younger, he and I are very good friends. We still are. We learned a lot together. The experience I had over him, in terms of being in business, I helped mentor him a little bit. He taught me a lot. The Busch, as much as there’s been written, or said, or whatever, the good, the bad, have been absolutely influential in my career. Taught me a ton. If it wasn’t for Mr.Busch hiring me, I would have never experienced the things I’ve experienced. I dare not say we would have never done this or that. I don’t know that. I do say the man knew what he wanted. He wanted good marketing. Yeah, I had a lot of battles with him. Yes, he was tough to deal with. But with August the 4th’s help of running air cover for me for 15 years, we were able to get remarkable work produced, and make a great impact for the company.
Adam Heitzman: That brings me to a good question. You just touched on it, about having some of those battles. One of the things that happens, especially in marketing, one of the difficulties is getting by in from superiors on a thought or particular campaign, whatever that marketing campaign is.
Robert Lachky: That’s a great question. It was really a day and night story. The night I’ll give you first, is when I first came in, the advertising process was largely still being approved all the way up to the top level of the company. In other words, you’d be bringing a 12 or 24 frame storyboard from the agency, or the agency would help present it for you. A lot of times you’d be carrying the boards up yourself to the board room. You’d be showing it to a bunch of 60 year old guys. Careful making fun of 60 year old guys. It was like a comedy to be presenting ideas that were intended for a 25 year old target audience to guys that are all sitting in country clubs, and aren’t even drinking beer anymore. You think, “Oh my God. How are we going to get anything approved?”
That was the night. When August the 4th came in, it helped immensely, because his father is going to give his son some leeway. As he was getting coached by me on what we need to do, and himself. He had great instincts. We were able to break the pattern of not having to go upstairs to show ideas. The great first ideas we did together, August the 4th and myself were for Bud Light, right when we were struggling. We’re trying to find our identity again. We had had “Gimme a Light. No, Bud Light.”
As a campaign, you may or may not remember, but it was the positioning of Bud Light that finally got a toe hold against Miller Lite. But that ran out of gas. We were struggling. We knew we had to get back to comedy. When we started doing some work together, August the 4th and I, because he was my boss’s head of Bud family, and I was still the Bud Light brand manager, we started doing stuff without anybody’s approval. Some of it was pretty risky. His dad would forgive us, but he’d beat us over the head for not having approved stuff. We even had problems with the agency, because we had a renegade creative team at DDB Needham by that time. I think they were DDP, who was giving us ideas off the beaten path. And we were going and producing them on our heels of an approved shoot. So August and I would be out in LA and say, “Hey, we got this new director. We got this idea.”
And he goes, “Go. Go get it! Go get it!”
I’m going, “Man, we’re going to get shot if get it, get it.”
So we’re in LA for two more days. We’re shooting commercials without anybody’s authority. Even the agency doesn’t know about it, except my little creative team. That kind of approach is exactly what we needed. We needed to go and do ideas, and get out there. Some of the greatest early work we did was done that way. Granted, we eventually got ourselves into a little bit more of, I wouldn’t say professional, but we kept their management in line, and said, “Look. Here’s what we’re out trying to get.”
We followed this formula of going to get it if our gut was right on a lot of things like the ‘Yes I am.’ Campaign, the ‘Wassup?’ We kind of kept going with that approach, because look, we don’t need anymore interference. The last thing you need in a big company is a committee. You even saw it in the big agencies. They’d have a committee before ideas would spit out of the agency. You can’t believe how much stuff would get killed or modified. Lines that were just right would get changed because some old guy is sticking his nose in the business. Come on, man. You’ve got to cut through it and have stuff that’s edgy, and entertaining, and cutting through. Great question. There was a day and a night, night first. And then daylight hit when we realized we’ve gotta do this on our own. We don’t need anymore interference internally.
Adam Heitzman: And you’ve gotta make sure that you’re communicating. Like you said, if that audience that you’re bringing those ideas to is not your core demographic audience, obviously, there’s a disconnect there.
Robert Lachky: You can see, Adam on … I was watching the Super Bowl this last week. Honest to goodness, I would love to just predict most of the stuff I saw, most of the work I saw, was somebody with a particular point of view, jamming it down somebody else’s throat. Whether it was the choice of a certain celebrity, “You know, I always wanna work with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith.”
It’s like, “What? For Kia? What are you doing?”
“Danny Devito. He’s great. I loved him on Taxi.”
What? Who’s Danny Devito? I know who he is. I know who Steven Tyler is. But when you try to marry stuff like that up … Or, “I really think we need a politically correct message for this and that.”
Yeah, but you’re T-Mobile. What are you doing? This has nothing to do with advancing your … You see the landscape littered with these bizarre, unbelievably twisted messages with no strategy on the biggest stage you could possibly have as an advertiser. And all you’re doing is wasting money, and leaving people scratching their head, or angering people. I see that as an offshoot of not clarity as to what you’re trying to do. Are you really on a strategy? Sometimes people get in this play room called doing the creative. Man, they gotta touch it. That’s the danger.
Adam Heitzman: In terms of strategy, what did your ideation process look like? How did you know when you had a winning idea?
Robert Lachky: That’s a great question. We were in such desperate straights in the late 80’s. When I got in there, I was actually hired to get rid of Spuds Mackenzie too. Spuds Mackenzie was an idea that Bud Light had that was … It’s a long story on the evolution of where it came from. But it was a really genius idea, and it ran out of gas pretty quickly, about a year once the government stepped in and said, “Hey, you’re trying to appeal to children.”
That was never the idea. But the fact that the brewery started producing stuffed dolls of Spuds Mackenzie, not a good idea. That does look like you’re advertising to children. Not even on anybody’s radar screen. When I got in there, I knew that Spuds Mackenzie was dead as well. I had been at the agency prior to that producing Spuds Mackenzie commercials. It was a high ride for us. It was like, “Wow, People Magazine is following us on shoots with Spuds. And it’s such a novelty.”
But we got chopped off at the knees pretty quick. You start to realize that you’ve got to have a plan. And our problem on Bud Light was very simple. We’ve got to get back to a personality that’s different than Budweiser. We can no longer be seen as just a flanker with a one off idea like the dog. What is our idea? And the idea was really nurtured out of Spuds and from the original ‘Gimme a Light’ campaign. It’s like, “Look, we have to have preference strategy. We have to have a strategy about people want a Bud Light for no reason other than that’s the best one there is.”
This was the backdrop of Miller Lite being the dominant presence in the market. We had to tell people that they had a choice. You could go into bars across America at that time, and you’d ask for Light. They owned the bar call, and it was on their label. Any bartender in his right mind, “You mean Miller Lite.”
We had to get people asking for Bud Light, and to make it distinctive from Miller Lite. They had a brilliant campaign at the time, which featured retired athletes and pseudo celebrities. It was brilliant. They walked away from it. I don’t know why they did it. They probably just got tired of it. That’s when our opportunity to get back and return to humor opened up. It not only was a strategy of people going to great lengths, a preference strategy, but it was an executional strategy as well that had to be adhered to. It was, “Whatever you do, you’re going for Bud Light, and it’s gotta be surprising, and fun, and hilarious. You gotta create a Bud Light world that nobody else can create. It’s gotta be so preposterous, yet semi believable. You’re always winking at the customer with this.”
That was the well thought out strategy. It was only validated by doing some work, testing it, seeing what took. We realized there were certain mistakes we were making at times, where it was really too stupid, or it was too sophomoric. You’d always run that line. Some people like ‘The Three Stooges.’ Some think they’re repulsive. Comedy is very hard. It can’t be foul. You want it to be funny mainstream. That’s the battle that was the Odyssey. 15 years, that’s what I protected with my heart. Every new brand manager I had always wanted to come in and play around with it. It’s like, “No. You’re a shepard. You just keep shepherding the sheep along. Nobody needs to change the main deal here.”
That’s the battle you have. Now Bud on the other hand, the thing we had to do is, we had a lot of ‘your dad’s beer’ type of things going on. That’s why we had to take the Clydesdales off the hitch, and start giving them more human personalities. Although the Clydesdales was not your own campaign, the only thing you did for Budweiser. It was a corporate campaign as well. But that was a critical eye opener for us, that we could play with the hitch. We could take the horses off. They could develop personalities. Today, I’m proud to say, that’s at least something that’s continued on. The shocking thing to me is how the current owners of the company don’t even put the Clydesdales in the Super Bowl anymore. Blows me away. To me, the Clydesdales was always the umbrella for the entire company. It helped sell Budweiser. It helped sell Bud Light. It helped the wholesalers, the local distributes. It was America. Blows me away that these guys lost that thing. That’s their deal, not mine.
That’s kind of it. It’s not twelve pieces of paper. I saw creative briefs from people. We’d get a brand manager from some other company package goods train. They’d be in there pontificating with a binder. They’d give the creative team a binder. It’s like, “Get rid of that thing. Throw that away.”
If this thing isn’t stated in a page, you’re not going to get any ideas. You’re never going to get the ‘Was sup?’ You’re never going to get ‘Real Men of Genius,’ if you think that way. The key here is, you get an idea. It’s not change it every year. That’s what drives me nuts is, I see great campaigns that are brilliant. And they suddenly change. I know exactly why it changed. Some new knucklehead got in there. He’s changed it, or she’s changed it. Change for change’s sake in marketing is death. You can evolve it. Most of the time, you can evolve it.
Adam Heitzman: One of my favorite campaigns of all time is the ‘Real Men of Genius.’ But I know, probably from a general audience stand point, correct me if I’m wrong, what won the Gold Lion award was the ‘Wassup?’ How did that idea come about?
Robert Lachky: That’s a great question. ‘Real Men of Genius,’ we were starting to hit our stride again. This is circa late 1999 or so. We were doing well with the television advertising on Bud Light. But radio was always a battle for us. How can you create more of a theater of the mind? The guys actually came up with a precursor to this that ran for maybe half a year, with Charlton Heston. We had done an ‘I love you, man’ commercial with Charlton Heston of all things. Why, I don’t know to this day. He was funny. And they put him in radio as the voice over. It was a very funny idea. A guy, kind of a drone like voice, “Well, I was standing in the line at the theater.”
And then you’d hear Charlton Heston’s voice, “He was standing in the line at the theater!”
And the guy goes, “Uh, yeah. And then I was … “
So you’re getting this dialogue between this slacker and Charlton Heston pontificating. And somehow, Bud Light gets into the story. And it was very funny. It was kind of, we saw it as cenergy to the fact that we were running Charlton Heston on TV in a couple of these, ‘I love you, man.’ Commercials. We realized that he starting to have issues. I don’t think he got the campaign. He was a nice man. We had him to our convention. He’s obviously a legend. With all due respect, he’s just the best. He was wonderful for us, and funny. It was good. We just started thinking, “Is there something else we can do?”
That forced us. The guys came up with an idea that was originally termed, ‘Real American Heroes.’ That was the name of the campaign. And it was done exactly in this format. The sung voice from the guy from Foreigner. That’s the band. I can’t remember his name. He was the lead singer. He’s a great guy. And the voice that you hear very often, is the main delivery voice. It was very good counterpoint, just parodying people in life. It worked. The problem was, when the campaign had just launched, that’s when 9/11 hit. We knew, “Oh my goodness. These are not real American heroes. We’ve got to change this.”
We thought we were gonna have to change the whole thing. We thought, “Oh my goodness. This is so disrespectful to use a line at this terrible time in our country.”
The guys made a real simple fix. It seems like, “Wow. It must have been there all the time.”
We just called it ‘Real Men of Genius.’ Grammatically, it didn’t sound right. It was kind of like, “What? What?”
We just went with it because we loved the format of the singing and the very deep voiced announcer that we thought, “Well, let’s just go with it.”
The rest is history. I think we did over 450 of these things. It ran for how many years until, again, new owners in all their genius just decided to the campaign was no good anymore, that it wasn’t selling beer. It’s like, “Alright, idiots.”
It was something that was so good. We ran it forever. We also adapted it for television, which was kind of an ill fated venture, because when you start showing people, the bald guy or whatever, the nudist colony man, it’s like, “What? We can’t do that, because you know everything is going to go to slow motion. Fat people jiggling. No. We don’t need to do that.”
But I was told, “You have to do it.”
By my senior guy, the chairman of the board, because he heard from somebody that’d be good on TV. You do it on TV and it doesn’t make it as funny, because the theater of the mind goes away. We ran a couple of those for a month and realized, this isn’t funny. It’s hurting the radio campaign, because you’re revealing too much. You’re pulling too much of the curtain back. Long winded, but that’s the story of ‘Real Men of Genius.’
Adam Heitzman: You talked a little about this as well. It seemed like you all had hit after hit with campaign. How did you know when it was time to cut that campaign off, and sunset it, and move on to the next version?
Robert Lachky: That’s a kind complement. It was always with anxiety. I knew this stuff would burn out pretty fast. It always made you worry that, where do we go next? On Bud Light, I wasn’t as worried, because I knew the strategy was right. I knew we were going to be okay as long as we got funny spots. The way we managed that was, we made sure that we were hitting topical things as we went through time. Any creative team could come in and pick up and put their signature on it.
We created our own celebrities. For example, the guys wanted to come up with an idea with Kings of Comedy. Kings of Comedy was not a real well known cable thing that was going on at the beginning. But Cedric the Entertainer was starting to emerge as a key piece of Kings of Comedy. We ended up getting Cedric to do a spot that launched a four or five spot pool with Cedric that ran for two years. That was a great discovery. Not a celebrity for celebrity sake. But a celebrity that could be helped by this. Catapult his fame, because he started doing movies after the Bud Light gig. The fact that he brought so much, but it was always about Bud Light. And another guy we found that could deliver our Bud Light message was Carlos Mencia from ‘Mind of Mencia.’ It was a Cable thing that was starting to become popular. Those are some examples there.
But also doing things like, we had a spot called ‘Robo Bash.’ When these electronic robot battle reality TV things were starting to occur, we did our version of it. We did one spot. We moved on. We were always trying to tap into popular culture with Bud Light. What’s hot now? Let’s try that. What’s fashionable? What programs are people out there talking about? On the Bud Light side, for me it was easier to do. It was much easier to figure out how to stay on the tracks. Bud was a little different. It was difficult because we were starting to his some home runs with some of the things we discovered through other means. ‘Was sup’ is a great example. ‘Wuss up’ is great because the guys found it on an independent film festival. They saw this thing called ‘Wuss up.’ Exactly the way it’s produced was exactly the way it was filmed without Bud by the original director, Charles Stone the 3rd. They showed me the tape. I’ll never forget this. They said, “Well, you gotta see this.”
It was funny. It was cool. I said, “Okay, what do you want to do with it?”
“We want to insert Bud into it.”
I go, “How are you gonna do that?”
They said, “Well just ‘Hey B, what are you doing?’ ‘Nothing. Just watching. Was sup?!’”
That was the way it was. And said, “Just having a Bud and watching TV.”
And they always had a Bud. I said, “Well yeah. That’s cool. So you’re going to call this guy that did it?”
“Oh no. We’re going to rip it off.”
I go, “No you’re not gonna rip it off. You can’t rip it off. You can’t do that. This is this guy’s property. And it’s not going to be as funny if this guy didn’t do it. Plus, those people are perfect. Why don’t we just get those guys to work with us?”
The agency was not really wanting to do that. They swallowed their pride, went and contacted Charles. Charles agreed to do it. As we were going through the process creatively, it was funny how the guys kept trying to put in new people. We said, “No! What are you doing?”
One good time, I can honestly say myself, and August, and the brand team blocked these guys from making mistakes just so they could have creative, … It’s not their idea. It’s his idea. The company will benefit more and more from the good positive PR, if nothing else that we let this guy do his idea for Budweiser. I don’t care what the creative awards program say about you ripping something off. This is a great idea. As a result, we were vindicated by that. The guys even wanted to change. My guys wanted to change the line from, true to right on. I go, “Right on? That’s like a 1970’s Billy Dee Williams move. Are you out of your mind? It’s true.”
“Well, we didn’t think you knew what it meant.”
“Give me a break. I know what it means. I get it. I get it. It means right on. But we’re not saying right on, okay?”
And then poor Charles, he’s sitting in the middle wondering, “Why am I getting into this with these guys?”
He was very grateful to us at the brewery for protecting the idea. They kept trying to change it. My guys are brilliant and did so much great work at DDP. This was one time I was shocked at how they didn’t get it. It was more about, “We want to get credit for this.”
No. You take credit with this man. You brought it to life for him. That was a tough one. A different one is ‘Frogs’ where you see a one off idea, and you just go get it. You know the thing’s not going to run for more than a year or two. The brilliance of what we did there, I think, was we said, “Okay, we know we can’t keep having frogs say, ‘Bud-wise-er.’ You’ve got them talking to each other. They’re riding an alligator. How many more things can we have ‘Bud-wise-er’ do? Not much.”
We’re fortunate by the way we structured our agencies at that time. We had more than one agency. The primary agency didn’t like it, but it saved us. Goodby Silverstein was the secondary agency. They came up with an idea. We asked, “Is there a way you guys can evolve ‘Frogs?’”
And Goodby’s idea was, “Yeah. Let’s have other jealous swamp creatures try to get in the Bud commercial.”
I go, “What? What do you mean, jealous swamp creatures?”
He goes, “Well, you know, like weasels, or lizards, or whatever.”
And honest to goodness, that’s how we came up with ‘Louie the Lizard.’ And the whole idea of their intro to it, that almost got me fired, was to assassinate the frogs on the Super Bowl. The electrocute them in their frog bar. When you still think back to the story boards, you go, “Are you, are you kidding me? We can’t do assassinations.”
“Oh, it’s just a commercial, man.”
And it’s like, “Okay.”
You’re buying into this, and you realize, “I’m going to get killed here.”
We went through it. We did it. They unsuccessfully didn’t electrocute the frogs on national television on the Super Bowl. But it did launch ‘Louie the Lizard,’ which was brilliant. And it got us at least three more years of ‘Louie the Lizard.’ TV spots for sure. But the other brilliant thing about ‘Louie the Lizard’, it worked on radio, because the voices of Louie and Frank, which at the time, ‘Sopranos’ was so big. Again, borrowing from the influence of what’s going on. We got two guys out of Queens who were stage actors that talked like thugs, hilarious. And on radio, they were even better than TV, because they were like, “Aye, Frankie.”
It was just like, “Oh my God. This is exactly what we tried to do on Bud Light. And now we’re doing it on Bud.”
If you can evolve and idea and be open minded enough to say, “Maybe this thing can leapfrog.”
I think you start saying, “Look, I’ve got about a year, year and a half. As soon as I get tired of it, it may be too late, because you’ve got to get out before the customer gets tired of it.”
So maybe we jumped early on some things. But I always felt we made good calls on evolving it. Even when ‘Was sup’ ran out of gas, and it was only a year, it was more driven by the fact that Charles Stone didn’t really want to do this anymore. That was okay. He’s a good guy. We started producing ‘Was sup’ spots ourselves. We decided, “Well, is there another way to say, ‘Was sup’?”
And then we started doing parodies of ‘Wassup’. How do gangsters say ‘Was sup’? They go “How you doin’?”
“How you doin’? How you doin’? How you doin’?”
We started doing evolutions of ‘Wassup’. And the consumer followed us. We got through that. We probably extended the idea another couple years because of that. That’s how you do it, I think. If something is so wickedly popular, and you can slowly get the customer to the next place by an evolution that they understand, then why wouldn’t you do it? A company is doing great right now, a couple companies, is the insurance sector. When you look at Progressive, whether you like Flow or hate her. Farmer’s insurance. These guys are evolving. Geico, my God. It’s the greatest. Geico is doing what we done. I always admired Geico when I was working at the brewery. They’ve been doing it forever. They do have the 15 minutes. “You give me 15 minutes, we’ll give you 15%.”
I get it. I get it. I get it. But I’m always entertained, and I get a good feeling out of their marketing. I think that’s the plan. Evolve. Don’t blow it up. If you have to blow it up, it’s going to be hard to get back on those tracks.
Adam Heitzman: Since you date back to even the mid 80’s ish. Obviously, a lot of digital components and digital campaigns, that’s where everything’s at nowadays for the most part.
Robert Lachky: I agree.
Adam Heitzman: There’s a lot in TV and radio for sure. Is a good campaign a good campaign no matter what platform it’s on?
Robert Lachky: Yeah. I think. I experienced that with ‘Wassup.’ When ‘Was sup’ came out, we originally debuted it on Christmas day. NBA always has a Christmas day basketball game. We had a 60. And the 60 seconds of “Wassup? Wassup? Wassup?” Was like whoa. You have to be a real fan to like that much ‘Was sup.’ And I loved it. August the 4th loved it. His dad was like, “Oh, I don’t know, man. You guys are running out of, … Four African American guys like, all over your, …”
And it was awesome. They’re the coolest looking guys, guys you want to be buddies with. That’s the way we looked at it. But when you’re talking to old wholesalers at Anheuser Busch, all over the country, black and white going, “What are you guys? Are you guys nuts?”
They found it repulsive and we were in trouble. When we launched that, within a week, we were getting crushed. We had just put a call center phone number on our can, packages. And our call center was getting inundated by people who hated the idea. We very quickly, and thank goodness for Mr.Busch as our leader, the 3rd, he allowed us to do some quick fixing. I took the 60 of the air right away. We moved it to 30’s. We had 30’s cut. We had a couple other renditions of it cut where we focused on a single character. And it nullified a little bit of the outrage of that 60 seconds in your face. Within two weeks, because we ran ‘Was sup’ on the Super Bowl three weeks, four weeks later. Within a couple weeks already, you were getting Katie Couric on ‘Today Show’ and Howard Stern, two totally opposite people saying, “Hey, did you see that thing for Budweiser? The guy’s going ‘Wassup’. Isn’t that cool?”
And you’re like, “Oh my God. This is what we need.”
And you started getting people now, and this was the beginning of video content sharing to your original question. We were getting parodies within two and a half weeks of ‘Wassup.’ And we tracked one Iceland. We got one out of Israel. We had this worldwide thing where we had rabbis doing it. We had ladies planting tulips in a garden doing. And they were mocking it, and aping the idea, and sending it. We were getting these videos. We were like, “Oh my God. This thing is taking on.”
And all the negative criticism from our own system, we got thrown out of a few accounts across the country. But the wholesalers backed us, because they started to realize this was a very cool young idea. And it’s about, it doesn’t matter what race you are. This is about friends. We stuck to our guns. Video content, and the sharing of it on the internet, even this was year 2000 I believe. That’s when it was really hitting a zenith. People were ripping the thing. And it was awesome. And that saved us for sure. This is in the space of a month.
Adam Heitzman: Right. That’s crazy. What are you up to now days?
Robert Lachky: I’ve been consulting a little bit in talking to smaller, more privately held companies. It makes it a little easier. I do a lot of speaking engagements and things. People like to hear about what we used to do. You start to feel a little old doing that. I think there’s some really tried and true strategies that we followed, and other great companies have followed. You see many doing it now, like in the insurance category, following, being true to their brands. Not getting mesmerized by hiring a celebrity or doing whatever you think is cool, or following too much of a current production technique. For us, at our era, I’d say early 90’s, it was, we called it the cinema verite. The camera is moving around, trying to find the right- It’s like, “Give me a break. Let’s focus on a certain style that benefits us. And let’s not chase technique. Let’s chase our strategy.”
That’s kind of what I advise when I go. I got to be honest. A lot of people call and say, “Wow. You can help us because of Budweiser.”
It’s like, “Look, you don’t need Bud. You need a good digital strategy. You need a good online thing.”
I have a group of guys that I work with. We do more rebuilding websites, making sure they have suitable video content. Basically front end. That they have a strategy. I guess they think since I just did funny commercials, I never thought about it. It’s always about doing a spot analysis to me, at the front. You absolutely have to know, what are you trying to do? What are your strengths, weakness, and opportunities? What are your threats? You’ve got to understand that. I can’t believe how many small or mid sized companies that I’ve worked with who really are kind of making money and don’t know how, or why, or how they can sustain it. That to me, is the shocking thing. Believe me, nothing that’s too taxing. I had enough of that in one lifetime. That’s about where I’m at these days.
Adam Heitzman: Well, that’s great to hear. Bob, I really enjoyed speaking with you today. It’s been very enlightening. Your stories are awesome. Thank you again, for your time. Like I said, thanks. It’s just been an absolute pleasure.
Robert Lachky: Thanks, Adam. I appreciate it. I really enjoyed it. And good luck to you.
Adam Heitzman: Thank you.
Robert Lachky: Take care.
Adam Heitzman: Bye.