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MAKING FRIENDS IS OUR BUSINESS

In the late 70′s, I was a writer at D’Arcy, MacManus & Masius in St. Louis, working mostly on the Budweiser account.

We were shooting on location at an “authentic”, blue collar bar in LA (despite its authenticity, it had been styled and dressed to the point that its regular customers would’ve scarcely recognized it) and, since the folks who ran the place didn’t want to shut down during prime business hours, we were shooting really late at night.

Naturally, a lot of beer was being poured for the principle actors and for the background people. The process was, “Rolling”, pour beers, deliver dialog, “cut”, dump all the beers into ten-gallon plastic buckets. Repeat.

Take after take. Time after time.

When the buckets got full, a PA would carry them outside and dump them into the gutter in front of the bar.

After a few trips to the curb, the PA was approached by one of about a half-dozen, rough-looking men who were lurking on the sidewalk. “What’s that you’re pouring out?” the man asked.

When the PA told him, “Budweiser”, the tipsy gentleman’s reaction, and that of his pals, was predictably appalled. And when the PA came back inside, he announced that he would absolutely not be making any more trips to the gutter with bucketfuls of beer.

Instead, he started setting the full buckets just outside the door. In a few minutes, he’d open the door and bring in empty buckets.

When our clients from Anheuser-Busch caught on to what was happening, they saw it as a great opportunity to cultivate some brand loyalty. They went outside and gave all the sidewalk “customers” (whose numbers had expanded threefold by this time) bright red t-shirts, emblazoned with the iconic Anheuser-Busch A & Eagle and the slogan “Making Friends Is Our Business”.

My art director partner and I thought it was a pretty questionable PR move to pass out gallons of beer to a bunch of homeless alcoholics, bedeck them with your beer company’s logo and then send them reeling into the streets of Los Angeles in the wee hours of the morning. But we kept our opinions to ourselves, since we lacked the seniority to overtly question a client’s marketing acumen.

It’s safe to assume that Budweiser made some friends that night. But how much repeat, paying business this impromptu campaign generated is open to discussion.

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