Getting it in the can

Bud's provocative new online campaign takes, ahem, a backdoor approach

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published September 9, 2009 9:26PM (EDT)

The bathing suit-clad babe lounges poolside on her stomach, perhaps because sitting isn’t an option today, and makes a sultry confession. “I got it in the can for the first time last night. I loved it.”

Since nobody turned on "The Howard Stern Show" this morning, her candor can mean only one thing. Beer commercial!

The Bud Light Lime ad, the brainchild of DDB, goes on to depict a variety of male and female pitchers and receivers, including a bartender who’s “been giving it to everyone in the can all week” and a blowsy young blonde who’s “lost track how many times I’ve had it in the can.”

Combine the ad’s risqué message with a visual on Anheuser Busch’s Web site that not so subtly calls to mind getting it in the pop top, one understands why Bud chose to brand this particular product as “the good time lime.” Limes: truly the sluttiest members of the citrus family.

Welcome to the brave new world of branding, where advertisers don’t need no stinkin’ editorial controls to plumb the depths of their own tastelessness. Envelopes are still harder to push in magazines and television, hence Bud Lime’s alternate ads featuring healthy young people dancing, playing volleyball and grabbing their surfboards to the hipster strains of Santogold.

But traditional outlets aren’t enough these days, and advertisers are increasingly wooing consumers with their, ahem, backdoor strategies. Bud’s CEO Dave Peacock said last month, “What drives pop culture doesn't necessarily emanate from television anymore, it comes from digital.” The brewer has been an innovator in that realm, offering a bleep-heavy "Swear Jar” spot and a much-forwarded, blush-inducing bit featuring the escalating humiliation of a regular Joe purchasing a six-pack and some porn. The ads aren’t remarkable for much besides their shock value, but there is something weirdly liberating about the Bud ads nevertheless, their grown-up acknowledgment that men and women alike curse, consume porn, use safewords, play with sex toys, and occasionally take trips where the sun doesn’t shine. Personally, I’d pick sodomy over a flavored light beer any day, but it’s nice to have options.

But does an ad’s buzz translate into anybody actually getting buzzed? As AdAge pointed out recently, thanks to the recession and fickle, younger consumers, Bud Light is this year facing its first ever sales decline. Attracting attention is easy -- just make a few entendres that barely qualify as double and wait for the knowing gasps. Selling suds in a weak economy? Turns out it’s a real pain in the ass.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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