Is Budweiser’s Super Bowl flashmob hockey ad offside?

Client: Budweiser Canada
Campaign: Flash Fans 2012
Agency: Anomaly

By Christopher Michael

Budweiser flash mob hockey ad

Budweiser Canada's "flash fans" Super Bowl hockey ad

Full disclosure: My father’s rec hockey team in Toronto, the Brass Taps, was going to be used in this video but ultimately got rejected for being too good. You can’t really pull off “lumbering, average beer league team” when one of your guys used to play in the NHL.

It’s a shame, in a way. Because Budweiser Canada’s brilliant revival of the flashmob – an authentic human social invention that was immediately seized upon and bled to a dessicated husk by the marketing industry – is almost certainly going to go viral.

The premise for this Super Bowl ad (for Canadian audiences only, at least so far) is simple. 1. Tell a small-town beer league team you’re shooting a documentary about amateur hockey. 2. Surprise them with hundreds of real fans to cheer their every play.

It’s a nice idea. (True, it’s been done before, but not for profit.)

Anyone who’s played hockey, or any sport, knows how great – and RARE – it is to have even one person cheering you on, let alone people who aren’t contractually obligated to do so by dint of your having a sexual relationship with them.

My one problem with Budweiser’s ad is this: without asking for their consent until after the fact, people have been used in an ad campaign for a product they may not themselves endorse.

Theorists of branding argue that this is exactly how modern brands operate: they position themselves as “experiences”, or offer themselves as platforms or backdrops for people to act out everyday social stuff. If you go to Disneyland, you are encouraged to “perform” a family vacation, just like in Las Vegas you’re encouraged to “perform” debauchery. It’s like that scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne and Garth go bluescreen travelling. (If you were Delaware’s brand manager, you’d know you had a problem.)

Hi. I'm in Delaware.

Hi. I'm in Delaware.

Here, the hockey players of Port Credit, Mississauga, are asked to perform an uplifting sports experience against the backdrop of Budweiser.

But – and forgive the slightly aggressive language – there’s a coercive element to brands attempting to hijack our social experiences. What if one of those players happened to be an alcoholic? Or a communist? Or they just hated Bud?

The magic of editing means we have no idea if all the players loved it as much as they appear to in the video.

Budweiser hockey ad 2

Full of hate?

Budweiser gets away with it, basically because the ad is heartwarming enough that all the players probably DID love it, or at least agree to sign the release. It’s not hard to imagine a situation, however, where this kind of intervention could backfire. Surprise: your sexual experience is now being seen by millions courtesy of Durex. Why no, you don’t get paid, what a strange question. Come on, don’t stop now. You’re nearly done.

I don’t want to be a dick about what was probably a great experience for most of the players. But I think it’s important to keep pointing out that, in general, most of us DON’T want our lives to act as marketing fuel.

Oh wait.

(Any excuse to play this.)


  1. Foginwater wrote:

    ‘The magic of editing means we have no idea if all the players loved it as much as they appear to in the video’

    This American Life broadcasted a fantastastic episode called ‘The Best Gig Ever’ which highlights exactly the point you make.

    In 2005, Improv Everywhere (wiki – a comedic performance art group based in New York City…carrying out pranks, which they call “missions”, in public places. The stated goal of these missions is to cause scenes of “chaos and joy.”) did exactly the same thing in 2005 to an almost unknown band. The band had only ever had a couple live gigs under their belt when suddenly a group of hardcore fans turned up to there 3rd show knowing all the lyrics, their names and music.

    If you are able to find and watch this episode you’ll soon learn that the band wasn’t too pleased about having there dreams and feelings messed with by a bunch of strangers.

    These pranksters probably thought they were doing something good – but instead they were doing wrong: they were lying, and lies hurt.​watch?v=4g4w9e-Xvkk&feature​=youtube_gdata_player

  2. Hawkbit wrote:

    Every time you tell a lie, an angel is murdered.

  3. Hawkbit wrote:

    Great link. Improv Everwhere did the same thing a couple years ago to a Little League game. With kids, it’s OK. But with adults it’s almost sarcastic. “Hey, nobodies – we got paid $150 each to pretend to love you. Isn’t that entertaining? The idea that anybody would ever love you?”