The spot: A man sits on a couch watching TV. His roommate enters and sits down right next to him, practically knee-to-knee. The man shoots the roommate a look of disapproval. "Dude," he says. The roommate moves over a cushion. A series of similar vignettes ensue: The man asks for a hand with a bench press ("dude?"), discovers a forgotten jar of peanut butter ("dude!"), and confronts a colleague who taps his pencil incessantly ("dude …"). Lastly, he reproves a friend for ordering what appears to be a flute of prosecco instead of a Bud Light. In this scene—as in all the ad's scenes—the only word uttered is dude.
Remember Steve? You know—the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" guy? Back in the early oughts, his ads were something of a phenomenon. The Wall Street Journal went so far as to say that the ads had "made a celebrity" of Benjamin Curtis, the actor who played Steve. Sadly, Curtis's celebrity soon turned to notoriety, and not long after that, obscurity. But he'd made his mark. Advertisers had been put on notice. The word dude had resonance.
Fittingly, this next big step in dude-related advertising is the work of DDB/Chicago—the same outfit that brought us Steve. They've upped the ante this time around, however. Steve used the word dude as part of a catchphrase, uttered at the end of ads otherwise given over to touting the particulars of Dell PCs. The new Bud Light ads depict a day in the life of an unnamed man who communicates using the word dude and dude alone. Save for a single Bud Light and the flash of a logo, there's no mention of the product. Why, exactly, would this ad make me choose Bud Light over Miller Lite or the Silver Bullet?
Bob Lachky, Anheuser-Busch's chief creative officer, told me that the dude ad is in the same mold as Budweiser's successful "Wazzup" spots. Both campaigns, he said, pull a word or phrase from the popular vernacular and stamp it with the Bud brand.
I don't think the "Wazzup" analogy quite works. Budweiser had a much bigger presence in those ads, for one. Wazzup was a salutation used by a group of friends who were "watching the game, having a Bud." And while the ads didn't invent the phrase "what's up?" they did introduce a new way of saying it. For a time, an ecstatic wazzup was the default greeting at frat rushes and tailgates across the land. Each time you heard it, you couldn't help but think of the good people at Anheuser-Busch.
Even after watching the Bud Light ads over and over, I don't think of beer when I hear someone say "dude." The dude ads aren't so much branding the word as offering a field guide to its many shades of meaning. By my count, the ads isolate at least six distinct usages:
The admonitory dude: the dude deployed when your buddy won't stop humming "Umbrella" on a long car ride. As in, "Dude, enough."
The interrogative dude: useful for ascertaining whether you've dropped a call. "Dude? Are you still there?"
The deflated dude: the dude of bad news. "Dude. Tom Brady's wearing a boot."
The exclamatory dude: the dude of good news. "Dude! Tom Brady is no longer wearing a boot!"