Bud Light ‘Real Men of Genius’ ad creator reflects on Mulvaney backlash: ‘You have to be very careful now’

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The advertising writer who helped create one of Bud Light’s most successful marketing campaigns said the Dylan Mulvaney controversy showed “you have be very careful” in the business now, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Bob Winter, a Chicago-based ad veteran who’s worked with some of the world’s most iconic brands, was one of the minds behind “Real Men of Genius,” the wildly successful Bud Light radio marketing campaign that ran through much of the 2000s. 

The appeal of the “Real Men of Genius” campaign, which won more than 100 advertising awards and remains popular online to this day, lay in the good-natured fun it poked at American oddjobs, masculinity and personality quirks. The commercials would pay sarcastic tribute to people like “Mr. Chinese Food Delivery Guy, “Mr. Next Day Carpet Installer” and “Mr. Really, Really Bad Dancer.”

Alluding to Bud Light’s partnership with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney that launched a conservative boycott earlier this year, Winter said “obviously, based on what has happened to the brand, you have to be very careful” now.

BUD LIGHT ‘REAL MEN OF GENIUS’ AD MAN SADDENED BY BACKLASH TO DYLAN MULVANEY, DAMAGE TO ‘GREAT AMERICAN BRAND’

“I worry a little bit sometimes that that’s going to make everything be too cautious and not as creative,” he told Fox News Digital. “But, you know, certainly you can’t push things as far anymore, probably for good reason, because we’re all a little bit more aware now, hopefully, and a little bit more sensitive and have a little bit more empathy. It’s obviously a different world, a different time.”

The “Real Men of Genius” series featured voice actor Pete Stacker as a deadpan narrator, coupled with Surviror singer Dave Bickler punctuating him with purposefully cheesy heroic music in the background. The ads occasionally dabbled in risqué humor as well (“Mr. Footlong Hot Dog Inventor” includes an uproarious string of phallic jokes), but they never got political or scolded their targets.

Winter helped develop the campaign while working for DDB Chicago in the 1990s. Along with Bill Cimino and Mark Gross, they formed some rough scripts that laid the foundation for the series that would go on to air more than 200 spots. 

It “let people in on the joke with us,” Winter said. “Having a laugh with the audience, and as long as you’re letting the audience in on it with you, I think you’re going to be OK.”

It was initially named “Real American Heroes” before being changed in 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

They stand in contrast to the discontinued “Bud Light Party” ads starring Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer in 2016, which had a distinctly partisan tone, and starred two outspokenly left-wing celebrities. Bud Light then found itself in a marketing nightmare this year when its partnership with Mulvaney went viral and many conservatives boycotted the brand, leading to heavy losses for Anheuser-Busch.

Asked if Bud Light had misfired with that partnership, Winter said he was saddened by the reaction to it, calling Bud Light a “great American brand” that’s always been about bringing people together, regardless of who they are.

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Winter has continued to enjoy a successful career in the field in the 21st century, noting the drastic changes in the business have made the job more complicated.

“It’s changed dramatically… The ways in which you can reach an audience have exploded,” he said. “Now there are a million different ways to reach consumers, but that also means that there are a million different things pulling for your attention, so things have to get really dialed in and very specific now, which can be a bad thing. I think things get overthought, things get overworked. You kind of lose a little bit of the joy in the process if you’re not careful because you’re trying to be so specific and targeted and careful with your executions that you can lose a little bit of the magic.” 

Back then, he said, a brand like Bud Light just wanted to make something entertaining. Indeed, the “brief” he got when he was first assigned Bud Light’s campaign was simply to be funny.

In fact, the 60-second “Real Men of Genius” ads barely mentioned Bud Light or specifically sold consumers on the product.

“It’s kind of amazing that we got to make it at all because the brand is really only mentioned two times. It’s not really selling you anything,” he said. “It’s not telling you a whole lot. But I think because of that, audiences loved it because you didn’t feel like you were being sold to… You were just enjoying a moment with each other and having fun, and that’s it.”

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bud light blue bottle cap with white writing

Winter recently launched his own outfit, Majestic Beast, which he describes as a combination of a creative agency and a production company, where writers, art directors, producers, directors and editors work collaboratively on various projects. 

Anheuser-Busch didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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