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Volume 20 No. 41
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He was ‘Up For Whatever,’ and so is Bud Light’s millennial push

Like many marketers, Anheuser-Busch finds connecting with millennials about as easy as completing that perfect March Madness bracket and winning a billion-dollar reward from Warren Buffett.

Thus came the seismic ad agency shift last June of America’s largest beer brand, Bud Light, and its $350 million in measured media spending moving from Translation to BBDO. The first creative work from BBDO debuted on the Super Bowl with a new tag (“The Perfect Beer For Whatever Happens”) and an accompanying thematic (“Up For Whatever”).

The new positioning for America’s best-selling beer was what we found intriguing. Research among beer drinkers showed A-B that for Bud Light to be relevant among millennials, it needed to differentiate using intangibles.

“I laugh at the guys who insist that I’m just an actor, because I’m such a regular guy. If I’m an actor, I’m freaking out.”

Ian Rappaport
Bud Light “Up For Whatever” guy

“We needed to be authentic,” said Rob McCarthy, Bud Light vice president. “That means doing things with millennials in real time in ways that are surprising and delighting. That’s where we started.”

The next step was hiring Jeff Tremaine of the “Jackass” TV and film franchise to direct the artistic pranking of a millennial. Then, the quandary became locating that millennial everyman — and that’s where Ian Rappaport came in.
The Super Bowl commercial was a tour de force for the 27-year-old New Yorker, who sells outdoor advertising. So while BBDO is renowned for its creative capabilities, and the ad required 58 hidden cameras and an astounding 412 actors, the screening process should get as much credit as anyone involved.
In Rappaport, A-B found the millennial archetype. Long before the campaign, he was an ebullient guy, always “Up For Whatever.”

“You’ll never know if Ian is having a bad day,” said Jessica Chappell, director of out-of-home at Horizon Media, for whom Rappaport worked for two years. “He always wants to experience more.”

Like so many twists of fate, it almost didn’t happen. Rappaport was registered with a website that coordinates focus groups. But that eventually led to Ian’s “Epic Night,” the Super Bowl ad, in which he magically wanders from a focus group to: a bachelorette party in a red stretch Hummer with
comedian/musician Reggie Watts, a sportcoat fitting with actress Minka Kelly, an elevator ride with a llama-toting Don Cheadle, a party with nothing but twins, a table-tennis match with Arnold Schwarzenegger and, finally, being on stage at a OneRepublic concert — all within 90 minutes or so.

Rappaport started that January night daydreaming about the new golf clubs he was going to buy with the $1,000 he would get for making it to the third round of a focus group, which originally asked for “25- to 30-year-old testosterone-driven males.”
He initially told his brother he didn’t have the time necessary to fill out the form. After his brother insisted, Rappaport found the time.

When a car service picked him up two hours late, Rappaport’s first thought was that jeans and a hoodie were not the right choice.

Shortly thereafter, he was headed downtown in a limo with Watts and a bevy of bachelorettes, thinking “I’m just going to go with it, whatever it is.”

After the Minka Kelly fitting, Rappaport went to the new 4 World Trade Center, where the entrance was set up as a club. A line of actors playing would-be clubbers stretched around the block.

Inside, when the elevator operator handed him a Bud Light, he began to suspect the force behind it all.

Throughout his time with the llama, with Cheadle and with the 30 sets of twins, Rappaport maintained his composure. However, the sight of Schwarzenegger in a Bjorn Borg wig might be unnerving to anyone. “That was when I got star-struck,” said Rappaport, still animated and with an infectious laugh, even while telling the story for what must be the 515th time. After the ping-pong game, the walls tumbled, and Rappaport figured he was just part of the audience for a concert — until Schwarzenegger pushed him on stage with OneRepublic.

Rappaport’s subsequent freakout is well documented on Bud Light’s website, which has endlessly detailed versions of the “Epic Night.”

“I wasn’t thinking; I was really just doing,” he said.

Rappaport was so suited to the role, some think he was just a well-cast thespian. For our part, we’re doubtful the spinmeisters at A-B would have left him alone with us in a Manhattan bar if that were true.

Said McCarthy: “We had a lot of debate, because of the infectious personality of Ian and how great he was. … What I can tell you is, Ian didn’t know what was happening.”

Added Rappaport: “I don’t think Jeff Tremaine would sign on and do something that wasn’t 100 percent legit. I laugh at the guys who insist that I’m just an actor, because I’m such a regular guy. If I’m an actor, I’m freaking out.”

Some of the more than 15 TV iterations of the ad were released as teasers before the Super Bowl and ran during the AFC and NFC championship games, two weeks before the Super Bowl spot, which Rappaport watched with friends and family aboard the Bud Light Hotel on game day.

“Epic Night” ran countless times and in endless forms, especially during March Madness — so yeah, Rappaport gets more attention now. There was the delivery guy on a Manhattan street who put down his six pizzas so he could grab a selfie with Rappaport. Professionally, “every single person in my industry knows,” Rappaport laughs, “which has been great for business. But it could have been anyone.”

A Rappaport Tweet underscores that sentiment: “It’s always fun to be recognized #ImNotACeleb however I am #UpForWhatever.”

Social media’s power as a marketing platform is still being debated, just not at A-B. “Epic Night” and associated content has racked up some 26 million video views on YouTube, totaling some 50 million minutes, and has appeared in the Facebook News Feed or Twitter stream of some 40 million people. “I’m now completely convinced it’s possible to get reach digitally, because we achieved it in a massive way,” McCarthy said.

As for sales? “[Sales] trends are definitely improved this year,” he added, “and we have positively moved, in a statistically significant way, the affinity for Bud Light with our target.”

Since the Super Bowl, there have been similar ads shot around the NBA All-Star Weekend and the Final Four in Texas. Now the question is whether Rappaport’s 15 minutes of fame are up or if he could be a continuing millennial voice.
Mark Zimmerman, vice president of talent and marketing at Headline Media Management, has been recommending Rappaport to speakers bureaus. “For anyone who wants to get across that message of ‘You won’t know what will happen unless you try,’ Ian is the ultimate,” Zimmerman said.

Rappaport said he’s “Up For Whatever” — outside of working for a competing beer brand.

“Everyone asks if I’m sick of telling the story,” he said. “If I’m on the other side, I’m forever wondering just how someone just walks into something like this. So I love to share — but it’s funny to see how many people still just don’t believe it.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at