dude, the advertising of observation

I’m interested in the way advertising mines culture for useful meanings. A couple of weeks ago, I offered a post on the recent efforts by cell phone carriers. An ATT ad shows all the ways people answer their phones. (“Hey, buddy!” “How’s it going?” “What’s up!” etc.) Verizon shows a father’s vane (and vain) attempt to adopt lingo 20 years too young for him. In a comment to this post, Natasha Estey pointed out that a recent McDonald’s ad shows all the ways people eat a Big Mac. All of these find something in the culture of everyday life and seize upon it as a trellis upon which the brand may grow.

A couple of days ago, I saw another contribution to this exploration of popular culture. There is now a Bud Light commercial that consists in a study of all the ways that people say “Dude.” And it is fantastically revealing of the number of things you can say with this single syllable: entreaty, exclamation, exasperation, dubiety, hilarity, astonishment, and so.

In one spot, two guys go to Vegas. As these pilgrims make their was around town,, each moment punctuated by a different, equally reveally “Dude.” One of the duo meets a suspiciously muscular “show girl” and in a hasty ceremony marries her. His pal says “dude” in a voice of sad “I told you so but you wouldn’t listen” resignation, and our suspicions are confirmed with a literal rendering of the term.

This study hasn’t been done, I wouldn’t think, but it would be very interesting to know the 10 words with this linguistic versatility. Can anything be more versatile than “Dude.” Hard to imagine. But what are, for instance, the top ten? I think “wow” would make this list. I find myself using it lots of ways. I am sure there is an intellectual somewhere who takes this to me a measure of our decline as a civilization, but then if you are an intellectual everything, with the possible exception of an outbreak of Mozart festivals, is precisely this. Happily, it is the anthropologists job to observe, not judge.
Anyhow, I was struck by this comment in a recent New Yorker.

In recent years, some of the directors working on modest budgets (in and out of Hollywood) have developed a chaste and rather refined new style–a style devoted to minute perceptions of character that lead to small revelations of how life works. Let’s call it the cinema of observation. I’m thinking of filmmakers like Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”), Nicole Holofcener (“Friends with Money”), Tamara Jenkins (The Savages”), Andrew Wager (“Starting Out in the Evening”), and now Noam Murro, whose new “Smart People” is about a middle-aged literature professor in a funk.

Perhaps ad interest in popular culture is also driven by a generationally specific enthusiasm. Perhaps a new generation is coming up anthropologically. Not a moment too soon. We need all the help we can get.


For more info on the campaign, go here.

For a look at the Bud Light Dude Vegas ad, go here.

Denby, David. 2008. Overripe, Undernourished. The New Yorker. April 21, 2008, pp. 142-143, p. 143.

McCracken, Grant. 2008. Advertising and its new anthropological content. The Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. March 19, 2008.

Acknowledgments (and hat’s off to):

Bud Light Agency: DDB, Chicago Group Creative Director: Mark Gross,
Creative Directors: Chuck Rachford, Chris Roe Art Director: John Baker
Copywriter: Jeff Oswald Agency Producer: Will St. Clair Production
Company: Biscuit Filmworks Director: Kenny Herzog, Clay Weiner
Executive Producers: Shawn Lacy, Holly Vega Line Producer: Lisa
Stockdale DP: Ross Richardson Editor: Carlos Lowenstein Dude…New Spot
From Director Clay Weiner (repped by Biscuit Filmworks. The Spot And
The Rest Of The Story: Dude.

13 thoughts on “dude, the advertising of observation

  1. peter

    Grant, I guess what is doing the communicating in the Dude advert are the non-linguistic elements of the utterance — tone of voice, pitch, speed, even rolling-eyes.

    Stan Freberg had a great sketch in which a man and woman had an extended conversation, through a wide range of emotions, uttering only their two respective names: John and Martha (if memory serves).

    Regarding the culture of minute observation: an innovator here was Jerry Seinfeld, whose stand-up routines (even prior to his TV series), I am told by people who saw him then, stood-out from those of his fellow comedians. His TV series continued this comedy of manners, all of it based on acute observation.

  2. Tom Guarriello

    African-Americans have demonstrated with great effectiveness the incredible malleability of the derogatory term for members of their race.

  3. Eric Nehrlich

    Grant, I can’t believe you wrote this post without a link to the infamous scene from The Wire that consists only of one profane word and derivations thereof. Possibly the greatest example of the versatility of a single word that I’ve seen. But dude is pretty awesome too.

  4. Rick Liebling

    Peter makes a great point. In these Bud Light ads, almost any word, or syllable really, could replace ‘Dude’ and you would get a similar effect (great reference on the Freberg piece as well Peter).

    This ad for Bud Light, along with the phone ad Grant mentions are both forshadowed in the “Wassup!” ads from Budweiser back in the day.

    Original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkPjnhZe8x4

    In this ad, not only do we have five guys all tweaking “What’s up?” on the phone, but if I recall correctly, the campaign went through multiple iterations that tweaked the meaning of “What’s up?” to the point where it morphed to “Wasabi!” at a Japanese restaurant.

  5. Michael Powell

    really (get your shoulders/head into it, a kind of subtle downward movement.)

    In the last 5 years or so, this one word has become a very popular way to respond to all kinds of interesting comments, surprising insights or potentially counterintuitive statements. I admit it’s hard to explain the subtleties in words, but I hear someone use “really” just about everyday.

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