OK, so you may have seen the new Rolling Rock commercial on YouTube or Google Video, and perhaps you are wondering, "what the ....?" Turns out that Anheuser Busch -- the new owner of Rolling Rock -- has launched a fake controversy to get lots and lots of folks to troll the Web in search for clues. The controversy: an intentionally tasteless commercial that was allegedly pulled by VP of Marketing Ron Stablehorn after many consumer complaints. It's all a fake -- Stablehorn, the complaints, and the pull -- the commercial never aired on TV. But on YouTube, it has already been viewed more than 1,000,000 times.
What's really offensive, according to some bloggers, is the fake controversy, not the content of the commercial. But does anyone really care? I'm sure more people would care if this were the work of a PR agency and not the work of SF-based advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein. Alas, like the folks at Hebrew National, we answer to a higher authority.
But what about Anheuser Busch's hairy new spokesmodel, the heir to AB's Spuds MacKenzie, the company's earlier attempt to revive a brand (Budweiser) with sex, spuds, and rock-and-roll? We caught up with the Beer Ape at his home in Belmont, California, and were surprised to meet such a thoughtful, gentle man, clearly caught in the glare and gaze of celebrity stalkers, bloggers, and potential employers.
HUBBUB: Uh, Mr. Beer Ape, how does it feel ....
BEER APE: Lane. Just call me Lane.
HUBBUB: Right, uh, Lane. We were wondering, how does it feel to be the object of this small scandal in the world of marketing?
BEER APE: Glad you asked, G, because to tell you the truth, it really bums me out. I had no idea the guys at Goodby were going to pull a stunt like this. I mean, we're living in the age of transparency, for chrissakes. Embarrassing.
[cell phone rings, Beer Ape picks it up]
HUBBUB: But why did you do the commercial? You have to admit, it's pretty bad.
BEER APE: [on the phone] Yeah, sure, just give me 15. [hangs up]. Arrington. Bugging me all morning. [broad grin] Anyway, you were asking?
HUBBUB: The commercial?
BEER APE: Oh yeah, why did I do it, knowing it's tasteless, sexist, blah blah blah. Tell you the truth, I thought it might be fun. You know, fly down to L.A. for a week, the booze, the babes, etc. But do you have any idea what's it's like making one of these commercials? Brutal.
HUBBUB: But you have no problems with the content?
BEER APE: Scuse me. [on the phone]. Yeah? Oh, hi. [pause]. Damn straight there's a mobile angle. Yeah, I'll call you, say, in 30 minutes. [hangs up]. Om. Gotta love him for trying. Anyway, can I get you a beer or something? [glances at watch]
HUBBUB: No, thanks. Let's move on, I can see you are busy. What's next for Beer Ape, I mean Lane, after all this?
BEER APE: I dunno, but I'll tell you one thing. I'm never going to work with an ad agency again. They don't get this new world we're living in. Nobody likes this fake marketing crap. [taps his forehead] It insults our intelligence. It's primitive. And it's so [grimacing] one-dot- oh.
HUBBUB: What do you mean?
BEER APE: I mean, that's the worst part of it. We've spent, what, two effing years talking to the business world about how they've got to start speaking openly and honestly with consumers. How the old rules no longer work 'cause the customer is in charge. How we have to shed our old marketing skin and start dressing and behaving like customer advocates. And what? [phone rings] What? One of America's biggest consumer companies comes along and says, "hey, YouTube, that's cool, we can do this viral marketing thing, start a fake controversy that will force people to pay attention to us, and we will rope in by the millions, maybe the billions, who knows, 'cause this is YouTube, Google, word-of-mouth, buzz marketing, blah blah blah. [phone keeps ringing] And you know what, people will think we are cool, because we'll be on YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, all over the Web, and people, young people, will love us, LOVE US, because we have reinvented our brand, and our brand is cool, our brand is hip, and, best of all, our brand is clever, and people will not care that we tricked them. No -- they will LOVE that we tricked them. This is the age of irony, right, and everyone loves to be fooled. And what can be hipper than that?" Disgusting [phone rings again]. Scusie. [starts to take call]
HUBBUB: But wait, maybe the folks at Anheuser Busch have a point. Will people really care? Isn't this just a joke, entertainment? Is this different from the kind of trouble that businesses have gotten in over the past year in the blogosphere, where people naturally are very sensitive ...
BEER APE: Sorry -- gotta take this. It's Richard. [beaming] Wal-Mart needs a new blog, and they believe I'm their man.
HUBBUB: Well congratulations, Beer Ape!
BEER APE: Lane.
HUBBUB: Lane -- great meeting you, and thanks for spending time with us.
BEER APE: De nada.
BEER APE: Ciao.
[FULL DISCLOSURE: Steven Emerson, an in-law, provided the deliberately cliched 80's hair-band music for the Beer Ape commercial.]