We have been watching with fascination the Whatever USA advertising campaign, event, experiential activation, promotion and commercial film shoot from Anheuser Busch. Most of us have seen the commercials from Bud Light about the fictional town Whatever USA. The brand marketing team launched a series of commercials about the town, and held a contest for 1,100 lucky winners to visit for three days of fun- all expenses paid.
Whatever USA was built in the actual town of Crested Butte, CO. From the beginning, there were challenges reported about the permitting process. The Town Council ended up approving the event, but it was after heated debate from the citizens of the town. The standard permitting fees start at $10,000 here, and to secure the special event AB originally offered $250,000 to the town. After the debate began to build in late August, Bud Light upped the offer to $500,000, including a promise to fix any damage and restore the town to its original condition.
The controversy began with the build of the event. The event team began construction of the fences and infrastructure prior to getting the official approval from the Town Council. After an 8.5-hour debate at the town council, the meeting ended with a temporary permit for construction to begin. Once locals began seeing the extent the complaints started rolling in. Citizens felt a lack of communication, even though the marketing firm and Anheuser Busch have been working with the town since last spring, including producing a 100 page operational plan, however residents did not learn about the extent until weeks before the event.
So what did the build include? In addition to the full concert build, the main avenue in Crested Butte was painted blue, the iconic avenue was adorned with blue paint, blue light poles, Bud Light branded fencing, custom archways and signs, as well as a host of other branding elements. This also included a giant blue gorilla, Bud Light Blue busses, oversized props, etc. In addition, local retail establishments were only serving Bud Light throughout the event.
Issues and Cleanup:
Many issues were compounded when Bud Light ran out of wristbands for local residents to attend. In fact, they had to distribute permission slips for people to go to work. After the event, heavy rains caused the paint to run, and plans had to change for the resurface. In fact, they had to spend an extra $40,000 to remove an 1/8″ of the road to re-pave Elk Avenue.
I am a fan of this event, and applaud the marketing team and the client for pushing the boundaries with this event. Were there issues? Could communication be better? Will there be a host of key learnings coming out of this activation? Cost overruns? Yes to all, but it looks like an overall win, especially for content and the advertising that will come out of this activation for the next year. As always, content is king.