Cultural Catchphrases


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In Ad Corner, we’ll take a look at famous advertising campaigns. We’ll analyze what they did and how we can apply those same principles to small business advertising.

Anheuser-Busch is a well-known brewing company that distributes beers under a variety of names, including Budweiser and Bud Light. Today we’re going to look at two different advertising campaigns run by Anheuser-Busch that created cultural catchphrases and cemented the brewer in place through pop culture.

Catchphrase 1: Whassup?

The year was 1999 and the ad agency DDB was competing to get an Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl spot. DDB was given the go ahead when they pitched a repurposing of a short film called “True” that had gained popularity at film festivals. DDB worked together with Charles Stone III (the original writer and director of “True”) to film several spots. These spots featured a group of friends saying “Whassup?” in a comical way, talking about drinking Budweiser, and watching various sporting events.

One of DDB’s chief creative officers, Bob Scarpelli, is quoted by the New York Times as wanting to create “talk-value” or “that all-important intangible quality that with enough media exposure [it] begins to seep into the culture.” And even though the campaign started off slowly, Budweiser’s Whassup? did find its way into water cooler conversations, news stories, and multiple mentions on popular TV shows. By 2000, DDB estimated the Whassup? campaign earned at least $20 million worth of free publicity through articles and news features. There were also several uses of Whassup? across the internet, but they were unable to track the amount at the time.

Whassup? has earned several awards since its debut. The phrase has been used in movies and on television shows since 2001, showing up in episodes of The Simpsons, Friends, The Office, How I Met Your Mother, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, to name a few. Scarpelli’s goal of creating “talk-value” was not only met but exceeded, as Whassup? continues to be a well-known phrase two decades later.

Catchphrase 2: Dilly Dilly

Fast forward to 2017 and Bud Light, another of Anheuser-Busch’s beer brands, was struggling to maintain its share of the market. Bud Light partnered with Wieden + Kennedy to create “Banquet,” the first of what would be many medieval-based advertisements. The ad premiered during football season, on the same day as a Game of Thrones’ season finale. By leveraging the popularity of both football and Game of Thrones, W+K was able to grab the attention of consumers and give them one small, simple phrase: Dilly Dilly.

Whassup? is an obvious riff off of “What’s up?” and carries a specific meaning that can, technically, exist outside of Budweiser. Dilly Dilly, however, is more or less a nonsense phrase that had very little meaning at the time the commercial aired. This flexibility within the phrase gave room for people to strongly associate it with Bud Light and whatever meaning the commercial assigned to it. In the context of “Banquet,” Dilly Dilly is used as a celebratory term, affirming people who brought Bud Light to the king and queen. It’s also used to show agreement with sending the craft beer guy to the “Pit of Misery”. After this ad, the sports world took Dilly Dilly and ran.

Dilly Dilly showed up during football games, on ESPN, and in players’ tweets. The Philadelphia Eagles tweaked it to “Philly Philly” when they won the 2018 Super Bowl. Bud Light partnered with them by giving everyone in Philadelphia free beer and skywriting both phrases over the celebration. The advertising grew beyond Dilly Dilly to more commercials set in the medieval world, leading to FIFA World Cup promotions, and sponsoring “Pits of Misery” in several NHL penalty boxes.

The popularity of Dilly Dilly and the medieval ads inspired Modist Brewing Company, a craft brewer, to try making a Dilly Dilly IPA. This was a copyright infringement, and Bud Weiser sent a town crier with a cease-and-desist letter asking them to limit the run. They agreed, amused by the playful solution. And, speaking of playful solutions, Bud Light and W+K had an interesting one for the Masters Tournament when they banned the use of “Dilly Dilly” during the games. Since the audience was told they could not say the phrase, Bud Light sent hundreds of hats with the phrase to those in attendance. They still got to advertise and Masters technically got their ban.

All in all, the Dilly Dilly campaign was a huge success. Bud Light saw a growth in market share for the first time since 2011. Beer sales rose across the board by 3.3%. And the campaign itself earned over 900 million impressions through social media and news coverage.

What can we learn?

Both Whassup? and Dilly Dilly have a lot to show us about the power of popular culture. One phrase created it and the other was thrusted into popularity because of it. Paying attention to your audience and what they are paying attention to can be a great way to make your business the object of their attention.

Whassup? shows us the great staying power of a good marketing campaign. After over 20 years, references are still being made to the original commercial. And while younger audiences may not automatically link the phrase with Budweiser, the original audience still knows where Whassup? came from and Budweiser can still stay on top of consumers’ minds.

Dilly Dilly shows us that sometimes the best jokes are the most universal. Instead of picking on something or ostracizing a people group, Dilly Dilly became a unifying rally cry for fans of all kinds of sports. The campaign as a whole also shows us how expanding an advertisement’s world opens the door to unique promotional opportunities (like the town crier, Philly Philly, and the NHL’s “Pit of Misery”).

Through marketing, these two simple catchphrases became pieces of the cultural zeitgeist and Anheuser-Busch increased awareness and sales for both themselves and other beer companies alike.

Marketing Help

Bold River Marketing offers a variety of marketing solutions that can help you grow your own sales and awareness. Whether you’re looking to film a promotional video, create a memorable logo, or write your very own catchphrase, we can help. Contact Bold River Marketing today!