January 1989: Budweiser Defeats Bud Light in Bud Bowl 1

Graphic from Bud Bowl I
Photo Credit

In 1989, a 30-second commercial during Super Bowl XXIIII on NBC cost nearly $700,000. The Budweiser beer company wanted to get the most for their money, with a plan to "own" the post-game chatter with a memorable ad. They turned to St. Louis ad agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles to make it happen. 

The agency came back with an idea: a game within the game, pitting Bud against Bud Light across a series of ads. Nearly $5 million and six commercials later, and the first Bud Bowl was born. It wasn't easy--utilizing late '80s technology, it took designers eight hours to produce just three seconds of the stop-motion footage.

"I don't remember anyone having multiple parts to a single story in a game before that," Grant Pace, one of those creatives on the team, told Sports on Earth in 2014. "The goal for the next day was to have everyone talking about the Bud Bowl. In that way, it was a success."

On the day of Super Bowl XXIIII, January 22, 1989, their efforts would pay off. The buzz around the spots leading up to the game and the commercials themselves were such a big hit that Bud and Bud Light beer sales spiked 17 percent in January 1989.

The ad had a classic football ending, with kicker "Budsky" nailing a last-second field goal to lead Bud over Bud Light in a 27-24 victory. An alternate ending featuring a guy grabbing two of the "players" out of the fridge and chalking up what he just saw--The Bud Bowl--has some kind of hallucination. See both endings below.

From that first Bud Bowl, Budweiser would roll out the concept throughout the '90s, culminating in Bud Bowl VIII in 1997. Ironically, it would reflect the very first Bud Bowl, with Bud topping Bud Light by the same score of 27-24. In 2012, Ad Age would cite the Bud Bowl spots as one of the most influential Super Bowl commercial campaign of all-time.


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