The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History

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Editor's Note: This article originally appeared last year.

On the subject of the greatest football dynasties of all-time, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, 1980s San Francisco 49ers, 1990s Dallas Cowboys and more recent New England Patriots teams all likely come to mind. You would be remiss, however, if you failed to mention a less heralded and, uh, less human team that dominated its competition in unbelievable fashion: Budweiser.

From 1989-1997, the self-anointed "King of Beers" dominated Anheuser-Busch's Bud Bowl, the yearly clash between animated bottles of Bud and Bud Light that was featured in a series of commercials during the Super Bowl. The advertising campaign, which persists today in the form of Bud Bowl-themed packaging and promotional events, remains one of the most popular ever.

The Bud Bowl Architect

Copywriter Grant Pace wrote the six original Bud Bowl ads that appeared in 1989 while working at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Pace said he developed the ads under the assumption that Bud Bowl would be a one-year phenomenon, but Anheuser-Busch representatives liked the prototype so much that Pace actually changed the original ending to leave open the possibility for a sequel.
[See Also: Our 2008 interview with Grant Pace]

More Exciting Than The Actual Super Bowl

The first spots were an instant hit with viewers, as reflected by an amazing 17% surge in January beer sales. This guaranteed a grudge match the following year. As the cost of air time, production and other expenses grew from $5 million in 1989 to $8 million in 1991, so too did sales and Bud Bowl's popularity. Inflatable helmets and other related paraphernalia dominated liquor store and supermarket displays, while fans and sports columnists opined that the annual "Battle of the Bottles" was more exciting than the actual Super Bowl. (Considering that the average margin of victory in Bud Bowl history was less than three points, that notion held more than a little bit of truth.)

Tapped Out

By 1994, when Bud announced a new advertising deal with DDB Needham Worldwide, it was clear that the Bud Bowl idea as Pace and his colleagues had originally conceived it was nearly tapped out. The game took a one-year hiatus in 1996 before making an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1997. The buildup to Bud Bowl 8 featured a sweepstakes, inviting fans to go online and vote for their all-time favorite Bud Bowl players and moments. Though I was only 13, I managed to score an official football.

Television spots for the Bud Bowl were abandoned for good in 1998, as Anheuser-Busch brought back the Budweiser frogs campaign, which debuted two years earlier.

Today, the Bud Bowl's legacy endures in stores [photo courtesy of MauryStory]...

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...on eBay...

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...at BudBowl.com, and even in Tampa Bay, the site of Super Bowl XLIII. Snoop Dogg and 3 Doors Down will headline the Block Party at Bud Bowl 2009, while the Clydesdales will also make an appearance.

But while the modern Bud Bowl remains a marketing success, it hardly compares to the stop-action awesomeness that fans came to know and love in the events formative years. To watch every Bud Bowl commercial in its entirety, along with thousands of other commercials, I highly recommend the nominal one-week membership to commercial-archive.com. The fine folks behind that site have granted us permission to use their screenshots.

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Continue reading for a game summary of each and every Bud Bowl.

January 31, 2009 - 11:30am
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