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This is my potent and personal recollection of the advertising event known as Whassuuup!? 

Like a friendly ghost, it just seems to stick around. Even on many of the projects I shoot today, there’s always that one person who had come across my connection to the infamous campaign. And the result is often a loud and awkward, “Whhaaaassssuuuup!?” 

When I look back, the one thing that has always amazed me about the whole experience was the process in how this was made.

When Vinny first showed me the short, I immediately connected to the authenticity.

Anybody who’s been engaged in the struggle of making award-winning work understands that the gauntlet an idea must travel through in order to maintain itself is quite brutal. I’ve seen it on both sides, from an advertising creative and as a director. A lot of things must go right. The planets must somehow align. And on Whassuup!?, they somehow did.

Budweiser – Whassup!?

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Above: The original Whassup!? from 2000.


Our team was an unconventional group lead by Vinny Warren, a devoted advertising enthusiast from Ireland who, when he first arrived in New York, drove horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. 

Vinny was obsessed with advertising and American pop culture (ironically enough) and had stumbled across Whasssuuup, which was originally a funny, three-minute short film, and thought it would make a great Budweiser campaign. 

Clowning around is almost impossible to script.

I was an idea obsessed 26-year-old writer/art director from New Jersey. A fresh hire to DDB Chicago, already with specific plans to leave after one year to pursue directing in LA. This was my third and final year working in advertising, regardless of the outcome.

When Vinny first showed me the short, I immediately connected to the authenticity in which the film had depicted friends goofing around, which for me was eerily similar to how my roommates, friends and I would interact. (To this day, many friends of mine claim responsibility for certain moments throughout the campaign.) 

How is this going to work in 30 seconds?

Clowning around is almost impossible to script. When we did eventually write 30-seconds scripts, they were terrible on paper. Imagine reading a script with a bunch of friends, saying “WHHASSSSUUUUP?” to one another. 

It wouldn’t have worked without having the short film to show while presenting the idea for the campaign. Even then, some people just didn’t get it. 

Anheuser Busch – Whassup Wasabi

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Above: The Dookie-centred Wasabi.


However, Budweiser did 'get it' and while we saw a more universal message of friendship at the core of the campaign, they initially saw an all-African-American cast as an opportunity to carve out a presence in the urban market, a growing platform in the late 90s. 

The first step was reaching out to Charles Stone, the director of the short, who also brilliantly starred in it. 

An important detail is that this campaign was being produced at the same time that all of the big Budweiser Super Bowl spots were being shot. In fact, a free-lance producer, Kent Kwiatt, was brought in to produce Whassup?! due to the fact that the staff producers were busy on the more high-profile work. This was a blessing as we were, in a sense, flying under the radar.

The most important thing for us, creatively, was to maintain the infectious energy that was so entertaining in the original short film. The first step was reaching out to Charles Stone, the director of the short, who also starred in it. 

Above: The original short film that inspired the commercial, shot by - and starring - Charles Stone (the first character you see).

Despite the director having only having a few music videos and a commercial on his reel, we were dead set on maintaining the raw energy that made the short so infectious. And knowing what I know now, and what I’ve experienced in my 18 years of directing, most agencies would have just 'borrowed' the idea and re-created a semi-lopsided version lacking the original energy and edge. Sorry to say, but it’s true. 

Making a whole campaign out of this one idea was something that was a challenge.

In fact when the director was on the fence about acting and directing in the campaign, we took the position that it was his performance that made the whole idea work. We also wanted him to recruit his real-life friends so that the adjoining performances would feel authentic too.

However, we did have to go through the exercise of casting for more diversity. Meaning, we had to explore having a Caucasian character and an Asian character. At one point I was even asked to audition. We knew that this was about friendship more than skin color and if we didn’t have the authentic connection from the friends, or the authentic delivery of the signature line, we were going to fall short. So we pushed back.

We had to explore having a Caucasian character and an Asian character. At one point I was even asked to audition.

And obviously making a whole campaign out of this one idea was something that was a challenge on the surface but ultimately was extremely fun. We viewed the original 60-second advert as our pilot episode and the supporting six 30-second films as the rest of the season. 

Anheuser Busch – Whassup! Jersey Guys

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Above: Mob mentality - Whassup!? takes a different approach. 


It felt like a commercial sitcom, with a low budget. We shot seven of them, in just a few days, above a burrito shop in New York City. It’s quite surreal when I look back, as I don’t recall any formal PPM or the presence of any creative directors. In fact, I remember quite vividly the client showing up for a few minutes and then leaving. 

For those few days we just followed a mapped-out plan of all of the different parts and pieces we’d need for every new incarnation we were hoping to create. I’m pretty sure we got all of the right pieces… 

From our perspective, the weirder and crazier, the better.

The editing was a unique experience as the short time durations of the 30 seconds really enhanced the manic rhythm of sound and picture to the extent where it felt INSANE to our editor and our director. 

We could only imagine what the director was thinking with us agency guys taking his idea and pushing it all over the place. From our perspective, the weirder and crazier, the better. I had shown the rough cuts to a house full of friends and based upon their reaction, I knew we were in the right place. 

While it didn’t run that much on air, pop culture took it over and it was like a runaway train.

It was undeniably entertaining and only logic could stand in our way. But we weren’t very logical. I remember when we finally finished the cuts, my group creative director asked me which one I would recommend to run on the Super Bowl. I said, “All of them”. This was back before they previewed the ads weeks before the game. The eyes watching would see the full campaign unfold over the course of the entire game. 

Despite running only a few times, it made the splash we all remember it making. 

Instead, they premiered the 60 on one of the playoff games. Despite running only a few times, it made the splash we all remember it making. On the Super Bowl, we featured probably one of the more conventional executions, with the one friend who is home watching ice-skating with his girlfriend while his friends are together at a sports bar. 

Anheuser Busch – Whassup Girlfriend

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Above: Dookie's date night.


It was an honor just to be on the Super Bowl, so while it felt like a missed opportunity, I’m very grateful.

After its insane amount of success we suddenly had the highest profile campaign in the country and that brought on all sorts of attention and, ultimately, a change in the creative process. 

Creatively we wanted to begin evolving the campaign before totally riding it into the ground.

While it didn’t run that much on air, pop culture took it over and it was like a runaway train – talk about free advertising. Creatively we wanted to begin evolving the campaign before totally riding it into the ground, by creating variations such as Waasssabi, which featured our beloved Dookie character, on a date with his girlfriend at a sushi restaurant. 

We also began developing other campaigns that fed off of other signature greetings, like Emmy Nominated Jersey Guys which featured a bunch of mob-like guys from New Jersey saying “Ayadoin?”.

Budweiser – Whassup Again

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Above: The most recent incarnation of Whassup!?


Ultimately, the campaign ventured into the big budget incarnations we always tried to avoid, like when CGI aliens were repeating “Whasssuup?” on a giant spaceship… but I was long gone by then, already enjoying being a complete nobody in LA. 

I’m actually writing this right now from an edit suite in Warsaw, finishing a wonderful campaign for LECH BEER, where the process was very free and I think the work I just presented to our agency and client reflects that. 

Agencies change, new platforms emerge, creatives come and go, but what remains the same is the need for some level of trust in people that are dedicated and talented to carry out their visions. 

Whasssup?! was a small budget campaign based upon a pure idea with an amazing execution. We put all of our energy behind it and defended it to the end…and of course received a little help from the planets.

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