Sometime in September 1999,I was talking to producer Carol King in the Chicago offices of Publicis/Hal Riney.
I forget what we were talking about, but somehow it led her to showing me a much-copied VHS tape of a short film she had just seen.
It featured a bunch of African-American friends greeting each other with elongated and exaggerated shouts of ‘Wassup!” into phones and an apartment buzzer.
I thought it was hilarious.
And because I worked on beer advertising, I loved the fact that two the guys were watching football on TV. I could see the bottles of Bud in their hands. There was no drinking in the short film btw.
I liked the idea. And so did my boss. And so did the Budweiser client. They were shopping for super bowl ideas at the time. So my timing was good.
Now we just had to sell the idea to the creator of the short film on whose short film idea was to be based.
We tracked down the director Charles Stone. (This was before everything was online.) He agreed to do it again, this time with Budweiser in mind.
I added the line “watching the game having a Bud” because Budweiser is part of American life. It’s even got a nickname: Bud.
The commercial was intended to run in Super Bowl 2000 but the client loved it so much they put it on the NBA on Christmas day 1999.
By the time of the super bowl it had already gone seriously viral. It’s a myth that it debuted on super bowl 2000. But every year it gets voted in the top ten SB ads of all time. What can you do?
This campaign was hilarious fun to do. We had a great client relationship and a degree of trust and creative freedom that would make you weep. Massive media budgets too.
And then the Budweiser Wassup! catchphrase virality and Wassup! parody mania finally died down.
But it did take a while. There was a surprisingly huge appetite for this idea globally.
The circus did eventually move on.
And I not unreasonably figured ‘well that’s the end of that’.
But I was wrong.
As much media attention as the campaign in its heyday, it has never truly gone away. It keeps getting revived.
I think the reason for that is that the campaign hit so hard when it hit. It was everywhere all the time. It got kind of annoying even to me. But it made a huge impression, clearly.
It also had a great back PR back story: rap video director Charles Stone and pals show Madison Avenue what’s up. Even though that wasn’t how it happened it made a great story for the media. And they went with it. I would have too.
Of all the innumerable media revivals and homages to the Wassup! campaign both of my favorites were done by English guys. And I’m Irish born and raised. So they better be good!
Ricky Gervais made my night by putting a reference to the campaign in the first episode of The Office. I couldn’t believe it. That’s like getting referenced in Fawlty Towers. Immortality assured!
And the other one that I really liked was done more recently by James Corden. His ‘Gavin and Stacey’ UK TV show is legendary. I am a huge fan. He took the care to do it right as usual. Because he’s a genius.
An odd side effect of creating a pop culture touchstone is that you burn out on it before everybody else does. You got there first.
And then you eventually burn out on getting excited when you hear or see it referenced in the media.
I now have to pretend that I’m surprised and pleased when someone points some reference in the media to the campaign. It’s a great problem to have though.
The Wassup! guys got paid and everybody traveled the world having fun. Winning every award there was to receive and drinking an unfeasible amount of champagne along the way.
Charles Stone the director got famous in Hollywood. He just directed Uncle Drew. It’s out now. See it!
And now the old Wassup! idea has been revived yet again.
A lot of people have recently asked me what I think about the latest revival of the idea in 2018 for Burger King.
I think it’s a wonderful idea so long as the Wassup! Guys got paid.
At this point it’s like a comet that endlessly orbits the cultural solar system. Which is appropriate. It sure hit like a comet.
Fun Wassup! Trivia fact. The guys politely refused an invitation to open the Republican party national convention in 2000. How times have changed.