Who said the client is always right? Back in 2008, a brilliantly funny spot from DDB Chicago for Bud Light became a 12-million-views viral sensation and won a shelf-full of awards including a Silver Lion at Cannes and even the US Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial despite having never been shown on television. Almost a year earlier, though, client Anheuser-Busch (then in the process of being acquired by InBev) had effectively shelved the finished spot as unusable. It's a classic tale of industry serendipity. So how did it happen? Galen Graham and Jason Karley were the creative team at DDB Chicago.
Galen: "Jason and I had been working on the Bud Light account for a couple of years and loved that our job was to stare at the wall each day and write jokes. The Bud Light campaign at the time was to 'feature the great lengths men would go to pursue and/or protect their Bud Light.' Tons of classic and hilarious work had already been done for the brand. We felt, however, there was an opportunity to update the tone a little, to be less broad and wacky. In my mind, where we really succeeded with 'Swear Jar' was to add a layer of innocence to the narrative. While previous work always felt pre-meditated - with the hero scheming to get the beer - in 'Swear Jar' we see the receptionist casually, even arbitrarily, suggest they might get Bud Light. She wasn't scheming. But of course a Bud Light drinker is going to pounce on that opportunity — he sees the scheme."
Jason: "We started talking about a tip jar, then as soon as someone said swear jar, it was one of those ideas that just appeared fully formed in our heads. Oh... what if a bunch of people swear as much as possible once they hear the money in the jar will be used for Bud Light? Yeah, that's funny. Perfect."
GG: "The script was kind of an outlier and we were fortunate to tack it on to another production package. The client liked it but wasn't sure it would see the light of day. They didn't really pay much attention to the casting and production process... "
JK: "They liked it, but because the bleeping device couldn't run on broadcast TV they didn't really care about it. This was before brands had their own channels on YouTube so running it online didn't mean much to them. Which made for an easy pre-pro when the head client literally said, 'Oh and now the one that will never even air, whatever, bye' and hung up."
GG: "We were thrilled to secure David Shane to shoot the spot. His understated style, his way of directing talent for natural and nuanced performances, was atypical for Bud Light and perfect for what we wanted to capture."
JK: "David Shane is pretty meticulous in casting anyway, but we went through tons of people to find the ones with the best, driest, funniest deliveries. Also the right look and reactions, like the meek copier woman and the guest sitting in the lobby when someone swears over the PA. Honestly, it really was amazing to write dialogue and film it with people swearing. And finding all the different angles for them to squeeze it in, like the, 'Good morning — F*ck you Dan' in the hall."
David Shane: "It was just a great idea that Jason and Galen had - with really smart comedic frictions built into it, this little tension chord was under all the scenes, so it was easy to find comedy. We wanted you to get the sense that some of these characters were just waiting for permission to drop f-bombs in the office all day, but others were clearly more tentative, feeling their way around, trying out curses. And that was pretty much the experience of the actors too. The boss was this very proper kind of old school guy...
GG: "We had him ad-lib those lines and the stuff that came out of his mouth was just... really really special.
DS: "After he would unleash these torrents of insanely aggressive cursing in the conference room scenes, he'd literally collapse in horror with his hand over his mouth."
GG: "I remember we were shooting a scene and the actor was cracking us up and we're all laughing, David's laughing and on the monitor the frame is bouncing around and the DP is shaking from laughter so David yells at him in mock anger. Turned out there were a bunch of hilarious shots from the day we couldn't use because the camera was shaking too much."
DS: "But then we were told the head client hated it and wouldn't air it. And that was it."
GG: "Originally we had pitched 'Swear Jar' as a secret Super Bowl ad... one that was too risqué for television. But the Super Bowl came and went and the spot sat on the shelf. The client had moved on from it. We couldn't believe it. But there was a lot of focus at the time on the launch of Bud.tv. [This was pretty revolutionary at the time; an online content channel dedicated purely to Budweiser.] "The notion was that Bud could have their own CollegeHumor or FunnyorDie destination, despite all the legal hurdles of being a beer company. So me and Jason and much of the team at DDB created content to fill that site. However, traffic wasn't great. That's when someone had the idea we could use 'Swear Jar' as a promo for Bud.tv. This is, I dunno, 6 or 7 months after we finished the spot, and it finally sees the light of day. And then it organically starts racking up millions of views and shares."
JK: "Bud Light never posted it to YouTube - long story, but it only ever officially aired on Budtv.com - but it was posted there over 200 separate times by regular people. It also went viral as an email attachment. I had it sent to me a bunch of times by people not even realizing I'd written it. That was pretty cool."
The final film is a miniature classic, perfect in every way. The bleeping even adds to the absurdity of the situation, by emphasising the incongruity of all the swearing. An unbleeped version wouldn't be anything like as funny. The number of times the ad has been watched by now, a decade later, you could buy a whole Bud Light brewery with the proceeds of that one swear jar. F*ck you too, Jim!