“The best part of whatever is that you don’t know what the best part is.”
That’s a quote from a participant in Bud Light’s mega-stunt Whatever, USA, party/commercial filming that took place last weekend in Crested Butte, Colo., but it’s probably what a few of the town’s angry residents were sarcastically thinking, too.
This summer, you likely noticed the series of Bud Light commercials announcing its Whatever, USA, “the real town that Bud Light is building right now for people that are up for absolutely anything,” said Whatever, USA’s “mayor,” played by actor George Basil (you may recognize him from Vonage commercials and CollegeHumor.com).
As it turns out, Whatever, USA, wasn’t so much a place that Bud Light built, but a historic town the brand paid $500,000 to paint blue and use as a backdrop for an elaborate series of ads slated to run during this year’s NFL season.
Last weekend, the brand flew 1,000 guests to the tiny town located about a four-hour drive southwest of Denver for a carefully staged weekend of “whatever.” The weekend included:
* Performances from Charli XCX, Alesso, KC and the Sunshine Band, Questlove, Gemini Club and more.
* Hip Hop Karaoke with Lil Jon
* Carnival rides
* Boxcar racing
* Beer School
* Loads of free Bud Light
* Vanilla Ice serving vanilla ice cream from an ice cream truck
* Film crews to capture it all
From the footage, it looked like a lot of people had a fun time. But some locals weren’t too keen on big beer descending upon Crested Butte, a ski town of just 1,500 that CBS’s Denver affiliate describes as “more of a craft beer town, home to art galleries, artists and second-home owners. There are no fast food restaurants or chain stores.” Leading up to the event, there was no shortage of reports on the backlash from some local residents, with complaints like:
* The event would cheapen the town’s image
* The town council didn’t involve residents in the decision
* Residents were blocked from using local amenities
Then there’s the blue paint, which Bud Light used to cover a strip of Elk Avenue in Crested Butte’s historic downtown area. According to the Denver Post, the company allegedly used the wrong type of paint, and now the town’s Public Works department is left to scrape it up.
Of course ads are often filled with half-truths and hyperbole—Coors Light isn’t actually mined from icy cliffs by mountain climbers, by the way—but the reality behind Whatever, USA, just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, mostly due to the appropriation of a real town to shoehorn in a product and its culture.
Whatever, USA, is perfect example of the cultural differences between big beer and craft beer. While the former’s forced to manufacture a culture to sell its product, the latter often needs to look no further than its location—it’s own actual town—for inspiration.