Bud Light's brilliant dude ads.

Advertising deconstructed.
Jan. 28 2008 7:51 AM

Dude!

How great are those new Bud Light ads?

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The sotto voce dude: for classified briefings. "Dude: Here comes that tall drink of water from accounting."

The blissed-out dude: more accurately rendered as duhuhude. The dude issued upon rediscovering a long-lost Dead tape.

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The ad nails each of these senses, some more than once. I particularly admire the scene in which our hero, playing a game of pick-up basketball, uses an exclamatorydude to call for the ball—Dude, pass me the rock!—and then an admonitorydude after his teammate takes the shot himself—Dude, stop hogging the ball.

Yet as clever as the dude conceit is, it's not what makes this ad distinctive. It's easy to imagine a version of this spot starring someone like our old friend Steve—a benign stoner whose brain is so fried that his vocabulary has been reduced to a single, if multipurpose, lexeme. That ad might elicit a chuckle, but I doubt it would register the 1.8 million views the original dude ad has garnered on YouTube since late October.

The dude conceit grabs your attention, but it's the dude himself who raises this ad to the level of brilliance—and makes you want to watch it again. (Given the subtlety of the sell, repeat views are a good thing for Anheuser-Busch.) Beer ads that don't star horses or locomotives tend to be populated by a few classic types—yuppies, boneheads, boneheaded yuppies. The hero of the dude ad is something different. He's not the slick-dressing denizen of some chic rehabbed loft space, nor is he the butt of standard beer ad pratfalls. He's the untucked renter of a tired apartment and the victim of more mundane indignities: His buddy keeps him waiting, some guy barges into the bathroom stall he's occupying, he gets cut in line at the movies. He refuses, however, to tolerate these affronts. Each transgressor is made aware that his actions are lacking in common courtesy. Dude.

His travails make him seem a bit dweeby, and his response to them can be a bit peevish. Do I want to be this guy? I don't. But he reminds me of guys that I know, and I recognize in his daily life experiences I've had myself as a member in good standing of the ad's target audience—twenty- and thirtysomething guys who watch sports. The play here isn't "Drink Bud Light because we can make you laugh," or "because it's what the guy who gets the girl drinks." It's "Drink Bud Light because we understand the world you live in."

Grade: A-. This is a much trickier feat to pull off than making me smirk at a bunch of guys slapping each other. But the execution here is pitch perfect.

The documentary-style camera work gives the spot a beer-ad verité vibe, and the piano score lends it unexpected subtlety. I don't think they give a Clio for excellence in costume design, but Edith Head has nothing on whoever did the wardrobe for this spot: The sweaters, the yellow basketball pinny, the Vuarnet sunglasses—they're all perfect. They conjure a singular character who at the same time feels like a dude you know, which in the end is the ad's real achievement.

John Swansburg is Slate's editorial director. Follow him on Twitter.