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Bud Light ‘Real Men of Genius’ ad man saddened by backlash to Dylan Mulvaney, damage to ‘great American brand’

‘I’m rooting’ for Bud Light to make a comeback, says award-winning ad man Bob Winter

The advertising writer behind one of Bud Light’s most successful marketing campaigns said the brand’s partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney was an example of its commitment to inclusivity and he was saddened by the negative public reaction to it.

Bob Winter, a veteran Chicago-based copywriter who’s worked with numerous well-known companies, helped bring the popular “Real Men of Genius” Bud Light commercial series to the airwaves that ran from the late ’90s through the 2000s.

“It’s such an awesome, classic, great American brand, and, you know, the fact that it’s always been about bringing people together just made the [Genius] campaign so right for it,” Winter told Fox News Digital. “The fact that it was like a tribute to the real blue-collar, blood, sweat and tears Americans, I think, is what made it really authentic to the brand and to, I guess, the country.”

“To me, it’s like, why can’t we all get together and have a laugh, ‘all’ meaning everybody?” he asked.

Initially named “Real American Heroes,” the ads had the distinct flavor of poking good-natured fun at American masculine traits and excesses without getting political, a key to their lasting appeal.

The reaction to Mulvaney had massive cultural and financial consequences for Anheuser-Busch as many conservatives shunned the brand. Sales of Bud Light began to tumble in the United States in April, not long after the brand created and sent custom beer cans to Mulvaney to mark the trans woman’s “365 days of girlhood.” That move and comments from Bud Light’s marketing vice president at the time, Alissa Heinerscheid — who said she wanted to update the “fratty” and “out-of-touch” brand — sparked calls from conservative influencers and celebrities to shun the brand.

In October, AB InBev reported a staggering 13.5% decline in U.S. revenue in the third quarter as Bud Light sales continued to suffer, and the Bud Light parent company also announced hundreds of layoffs in July. But the company is optimistic it will bring back drinkers who had abandoned the brand.

“It made me sad that the reaction to that was what it was, because I think the brand has never been about choosing sides or anything like that. It’s always been about inclusivity and bringing people together,” Winter said. “I really hope that people can see past that… You know, I think people don’t realize how much they have in common with the brand and with the company. The foundations are all kind of what we all share, so I’m hoping it’ll come back. I think it will. It’s got to. It’s such a great brand, so I’m rooting for it.”

Winter, who’s also worked with such giants as McDonald’s, Ace Hardware and Netflix during his successful career, said from his perch as a longtime observer of the industry that it was “hard to say” whether the company misfired with the Mulvaney partnership.

“I don’t see why it was so wrong, to be honest with you, and I think that because they’ve always been about inclusivity and bringing people together, that should be all people,” he said.

This wasn’t Bud Light’s only marketing snafu in the past few years. The company’s “Bud Light Party” ads starring Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer, both outspokenly left-wing celebrities, also failed to resonate in 2016; one featured them decrying pay disparities between men and women. Another discussed gender identity; the company pulled the campaign early amid softening sales.

UFC ANNOUNCES BUD LIGHT AS ITS OFFICIAL BEER IN PARTNERSHIP WITH ANHEUSER-BUSCH

More recently, Bud Light has also leaned back into football, partnering with the NFL and Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith. The UFC, which counts former President Trump among its fans, also announced Bud Light as its official beer.

DYLAN MULVANEY bud light
Bud Light sales plummeted after a promotional partnership with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney caused widespread backlash.

An Anheuser-Busch spokesman didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Winter helped develop the “Real Men of Genius” campaign in the late 1990s while working at the ad agency DDB Chicago, and he said the mission of the assignment was simple: Be funny and entertain people. Working with Bill Cimino and Mark Gross, they formed some rough scripts that laid the foundation for what has been heralded as one of the greatest radio ad campaigns of all time. They went on to air more than 200 spots over the next decade that even briefly crossed into TV, and their distinct style and humor spawned memes, imitations and even CD compilations.

“It was an amazing assignment,” Winter said. “The brief was so simple. It was like, ‘Do hilarious radio’… The brand has always been about having a laugh, being unpretentious, being a brand that reaches out to its customers in an honest and authentic way, and is just about bringing people together and having fun and sharing a laugh.”

The ads featured voice actor Pete Stacker as a deadpan, sarcastic narrator, offering a humorous “salute” to various odd jobs (Mr. Bowling Shoe Giver-Outer), visionaries (Mr. T-Shirt Launcher Inventor and Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor), or examples of American excess (Mr. Way-Too-Much Cologne Wearer and Mr. Overzealous Foul Ball Catcher).

Stacker’s sardonic words were then punctuated by Survivor singer Dave Bickler in purposefully over-the-top, ’80s-rocker fashion, all with a heroic jingle playing in the background.

In one ad glorifying “Mr. Hot Dog Eating Contest Contestant,” Stacker asks, “How many times have we said, sure, one hot dog is nice, but 47 more would really hit the spot?”

“Get me to a bathroom!” Bickler follows up.

The ad would finish with Stacker encouraging the honored man of genius to “crack open an ice-cold Bud Light” followed by a pun or one more bit of sarcasm from Stacker, such as an incompetent “Airport Baggage Handler,” who “gives us all a reason to carry on.”

The ads were a smash hit with audiences and even with critics, winning more than 100 awards, according to an Anheuser-Busch press release in 2006. They included the prestigious “Grand Prix for Radio” award at Cannes, among other honors.

Winter said the ads initially were conceived as having a reveal of which person was being “saluted” at the end, but Gross encouraged him to instead make them more direct.

“It was sort of a lighthearted and somewhat sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek salute or tribute to people who work these kind of obscure jobs, like the jobs that make you go, ‘Wow, somebody actually has that for a job.’ Like, there’s a guy who gives out bowling shoes and that’s his job,” he said. “But saluting them in kind of a mock way that let the audience in on the joke and was just sort of fun was really where it all started.”

From there, they hired Stacker and later tapped Bickler for the musical background voice as the concept came together in the studio. Some ads even featured a Gospel-like chorus for even more effect, and they tested “amazingly well” with audiences, Winter said.

“It was really just so exciting to be a part of it and watch it grow,” Winter said. “And I think the thing that makes me the most proud is that, you know, they live on and so many people have gotten to be a part of it, and creatives and so many different creatives have gotten to work on it, and also it’s found its way into popular culture… I’m super, super thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to work on it.”

In 2001, the campaign rebranded from “Real American Heroes” to “Real Men of Genius” out of sensitivity following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Even after the campaign was discontinued, the ads continued to live online; there’s even one “Power Hour” compilation with more than 700,000 views on YouTube.

Winter has enjoyed a thriving career in the business and recently started his own firm, Majestic Beast, which “brings creatives and filmmakers together to collaborate on assignments — from script to ship — to make great content at the speed of culture.”

One thing’s for sure, he says: The world and the advertising industry are quite different from where they were at the turn of the century.

“There are a million different ways to reach consumers,” he said. “But that also means that there are a million different things pulling for your attention, so things have to get really dialed in and very specific now, which can be a bad thing, I think, because I think things get overthought, things get overworked.”

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