Budweiser and what constitutes a real choice.

Last week, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, someone (sorry I didn’t note who it was) posted this link to a Budweiser commercial that was only aired once.

I’d never heard about it before and so I checked with my brother (@warrenpearson), who lived in New York for three years, to see if he had. He hadn’t but we chatted about the commercial as it struck me as quite brave and yet I could also see how there was an argument here that said that Budweiser were cashing in on the horror of 9/11. And that, furthermore, by only showing the commercial once – and stating that was the case – they were attracting even more attention to it.

However, it also struck me that if you exist as a brand and you have customers and the way you communicate with those customers is through advertising, then, if you want to say something to them, if you want to make some statement about any event, then the natural medium for you to use is the one you use for your advertising. (Admittedly, showing the brand at the end effectively makes it an advert but it would have been daft to leave it anonymous.)

The conversation with my brother ended with him saying that he thought the commercial was nicely done but also very risky and that he wouldn’t have wanted to be in a position where someone said to him “Well, Warren, shall we run it?”

This made me think about decisions and one simple way in which they can be categorised. Some decisions are, shall we say, dynamic. Whatever you do, you have to make an active choice. Shall we paint the living room red or blue*? Shall we go for a Mexican or Indian? You can’t not make a choice.

However, for some decisions, one of the options is to do nothing and I think that in those situations, inertia always has to be considered. “Shall we go out or stay in?” is not a dynamic decision, it has an inertial element. If you don’t do anything, you’ll end up staying in.

People make choices like this all the time. Sometimes it’s a question of presentation and situation. If I said to you now that later on today a heavily pregnant woman is going to get on the bus you will be on. Would you like to give her your seat? She’ll be very grateful. I think most of you would say yes. But when it comes to a situation like that normally, we shy away from making a fuss, speaking to a stranger and we take the inertial option of doing nothing. Effectively we don’t make a choice.

If I had gone on TV after 9/11 and said to all American companies, I think you should run a commemorative advert or explain why you aren’t, I think most of them would have done so because it would have been easier to do what everyone else was doing. Not standing out from the crowd is a form of doing nothing. (Which is why we need leaders like President de Klerk to lead people out of regimes such as apartheid, despised by many Afrikaaners.)

So, my point here is that when we evaluate decisions and the choices that people have made, we should take into account whether the decision was dynamic or had an inertial element. Was a decision actually taken or did the party concerned just do nothing. And if the answer is that there was an inertial option and the party actively made choice, then that has to be taken into account.

Budweiser could have done nothing. It would have been the easiest thing to do and the safest. But they didn’t. They took a risk and I think the tastefulness of the advert shows that they cared about what they were doing and they weren’t trying to cash in. And if you accept that, then the decision to only show the advert once makes perfect sense, too. And so I take my hat off to them and I think if you stuck with me this far, then it’s worth watching the advert again. (Although, if I’m being totally honest, I found the horses kneeling a bit much.)

*Unless you are very good at interior design, stick to blue.

About fennerpearson

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