Is Budweiser’s Super Bowl flashmob hockey ad offside?
Client: Budweiser Canada
Campaign: Flash Fans 2012
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.)
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 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.
(Any excuse to play this.)