The mental_floss Interview: Grant Pace, One of the Visionaries Behind the Bud Bowl

Grant Pace grew up in Kansas City, attended SMU, and later wrote the very first Bud Bowl ads. He is now the Executive Creative Director at Conover Tuttle Pace in Boston.

mental_floss: How did the idea for the Bud Bowl come about?

grant-pace.jpgGrant Pace: It was truly a team effort. Our client August Busch had told our agency, DMB&B in St. Louis, that he wanted to "own the Super Bowl" the upcoming year. To that date, no one had ever run multiple commercials around one idea in the big game, but this seemed to be one approach to make the kind of impact he desired. We had previously done some simple spots promoting long necks to go, featuring some stop-motion animation. Someone suggested extending that idea, bringing more bottles to life against the backdrop of a game or contest. Several pots of coffee later, the Bud Bowl was born.

bud-bowl-opening.jpg

m_f: Did you write all six of the first Bud Bowl's spots? How many more did you write after that?

GP: I had the tremendous good fortune of being a young copywriter at the time who was given the opportunity to be the writer on this project by a benevolent boss, Dave Henke. I worked with Dave and two other art directors, Bill Oakley and Martin Buchanan, in creating the "game." It was the only year I would work on this, as I cashed in on my notoriety and amazing ability to craft beer related football puns and moved to New York shortly thereafter.


m_f:
What was your reaction to the amazing popularity of the first few Bud Bowls? Did it surprise you at all?

GP: It was pretty overwhelming. We did the animation with Broadcast Arts in New York, a group that was at the time the hottest show in town, as they were producing Pee Wee's Playhouse. I recorded Bob Costas and Paul Maguire as our play-by-play and color "announcers." David Letterman lampooned the idea on his show. And USA Today actually ran a betting line. Big stuff for a dumb kid from Kansas.

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m_f: What's your favorite Bud Bowl moment?

GP: We had a long neck in a crowd shot with a rainbow wig and a sign that read Bud 3:16.

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m_f: How much has the success of the Bud Bowl followed you in your career? Does it bother you that you're labeled as "The Bud Bowl Guy"? What projects that you've worked on are you the most proud of?

GP: I remain eternally grateful. I had a client who would back an idea of this magnitude (remember, these spots ran once and cost over $3 million to produce). And a team that gave me the chance to be a part of this. I have done other big campaigns (Miller, Audi, Hanes, to name a few) and other spots that are famous on the Internet ("Blind Date"), but nothing that has become a part of ad lore.

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m_f: Can you describe the alternate ending to Bud Bowl I that never ran?

GP: It all led up to the big moment when the little 8 oz. bottle went out to kick the field goal. Suddenly ominous music began and the bottles all stopped and looked up. A hand reaches in and grabs two of the bottles. Cut inside a kitchen where a man at a Super Bowl party is closing the fridge door. He holds 2 longnecks. He stops, pauses, then shakes his head as if to say, "I didn't just see that..." And leaves frame. We begin a slow creep towards the fridge, and a light begins to emanate from the edges. We hear Costas and Maguire shouting amidst the chaos to "call the police, call the commissioner, call SOMEBODY!" and we [superimpose] our tie score. When our client saw the ad, and the "did it happen or did it not" ending, they asked, "What do we do next year then?" As creatives, we all looked at the account guys and blamed them for not telling us there would be a next year. Then we went and added an ending where the bottle kicks the winning field goal.

m_f: Why do you think the Bud Bowl "“ in its original, in-game commercial form, at least "“ was abandoned in 1997, and do you think there's any hope for a comeback?

GP: I think it had outlived its usefulness and was becoming a tired joke. That and there really are only so many beer/football puns out there. Like Orville Redenbacher, maybe they will simply run the original one day.

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m_f: Are there any commercials you worked on for this year's Super Bowl that readers should keep an eye out for?

GP: Not this year. I'll be firmly ensconced on my couch here in Boston watching the Patriots aim for history.

m_f: Are you a Pats fan?

GP: Actually, I am a diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan. Which pretty much means I have been watching the Super Bowl for the ads since I was 9.

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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