February 05, 2014

Did Budweiser's Super Bowl ad sanitise war homecomings?

Featuring Phillip Carter

Source: BBC News

Journalist David Botti

If Twitter trend terms and internet chatter are any indication, Coca-Cola's multilingual Super Bowl ad generated the most controversy during and after the big game.

But it wasn't the only spot to provoke debate.

Budweiser's ad, A Hero's Welcome, follows Army helicopter pilot Lt Chuck Nadd as he receives a big surprise upon returning home from Afghanistan.

The ad begins with a tender reunion between the soldier and his girlfriend in a quiet airport. Next it's his hometown's turn, with an all-hands-on-deck parade.

According to the Orlando Sentinel's David Breen, this was a genuine surprise:

"Nadd had been told by his commanding officer that he'd be filmed for a documentary on returning veterans."

Budweiser told the paper it had planned a year-long social media campaign off the back of this advertisement honouring the US military.

For critics, however, the ad appears to have struck two nerves in America's complex relationship with its veterans: why are backslaps and parades sometimes not enough? And how much do people really want to know about the struggles and demons a veteran can face?

Public Radio International's Ally Thibault found that vets and their families had "mixed views" over the ad, including this mother of a US marine:

[Patricia] Hohl has qualms about making the private and personal matter of a loved one returning home from war into a public spectacle. She says this ad "allows people to feel as if they're doing something, allows people to feel as if they're participating, when the next minute they're back down in their seats watching the Super Bowl and eating hot dogs."

Veteran Mike Kopack disagrees, telling PRI the ad "walks a fine line between 'welcome home' and 'look what we did', but Bud kept it on the right side."

Elsewhere, Iraq veteran Don Gomez headlines his reaction: "Last night's Budweiser ad 'A Hero's Welcome' was exploitative and offensive."

He goes on to write:

Don't be fooled. What you saw last night was a beer advertisement. The ultimate aim was to sell more beer. The last thing you saw, after all, was a bright red screen with the Budweiser logo. The hope is that you link "supporting the troops," a vague, meaningless statement, to drinking Budweiser beer.

Yes, the images we saw were nice. The homecoming that young 1LT Nadd received undoubtedly felt special to him and his family. And Budweiser and its parent company, Anheuser Busch, have donated millions of dollars to military charities. That is commendable.

That said, this homecoming wasn't coordinated with pure altruism in mind. If it was, we wouldn't know about it. It wouldn't have been filmed and edited. And Budweiser certainly wouldn't have bought some of the most expensive ad space known to man to showcase it for millions of beer drinking Americans.

Still, others believe Budweiser handled the ad with grace - yes, the company has product to sell but it can still pay tribute to veterans. Bloomberg Businessweek's Kyle Stock, looking at the relationship between advertising and the military, writes that the advertisement struck a good balance:

Budweiser's effort was classy and restrained. There was nary a beer bottle in the commercial, just a bunch of giant draft horses and an old-fashioned Budweiser wagon. The company also gives generously to the Folds of Honor Foundation, which provides scholarships for the children of wounded and killed soldiers.

So far the ad has nearly 9 million views on YouTube. Among the commenters supporting the ad, one writes: "I would describe it as an honorable love letter to our troops."

For critics, however, it wasn't just the perception of a glossy homecoming that proved irksome - it was the booze itself.

Phillip Carter, an Iraq veteran and current senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, writes in Foreign Policy: "The ad ignores the complicated relationship that veterans have with alcohol, obscuring how much harm booze does to veterans when they come home."

He continues: "Decades of research should have persuaded the Army to avoid getting in bed with Budweiser. Better for at-risk soldiers to hear a simple truth: This Bud isn't for you."

As for the soldier at the centre of the advertisement, Lt Nadd told Fox News: "So many folks deserve this so much more than me."


  • Phillip Carter

    Former Senior Fellow and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Phillip Carter was the former Senior Fellow and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security. His research focused on issu...