"Dilly Dilly" Is a Thing, But Will it Sell Beer?

I guess we have to talk about Dilly Dilly. It's the catch phrase in the latest ad campaign launched by Bud Light, one that has achieved rare virality on social media. If you Google around the internet, you find accounts of its use spreading organically, though in a country of 350 million, you can find anecdotes about anything. Most recently, Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Rothlisberger used it at the line of scrimmage in a play. No matter how you slice it, it's become a national meme. Here's the original commercial:

You may find it amusing, you may not, but you have to go back a long way to find any comparably large hit for Bud Light. Vice President of Bud Light Andy Goeler told Adweek that it was the biggest hit since the turn of the century:

“I was around and lived through when we had ‘Whassup’ as a campaign, and Bud Light’s ‘Real Men of Genius,'” he said. “You knew you had something very, very special. I have the same feeling here as we’re going through this ‘Dilly Dilly’ phenomenon, that it’s the next ‘Whassup’ and it will be permanent piece of what people talk about for the brand moving forward.”

To illustrate the success of the ad, Goeler said there had been 100,000 Google searches and 45,000 searches on YouTube per week for the phrase.

So it's a hit, right? But does the commercial's success in social media mean it's good for Bud Light? Has the campaign moved product, or just trended on Twitter? And a question I'm particularly interested in: does it build brand awareness and help the company stop its slide in the long term?

First of all, let's characterize how much of a hit it is. We live in little silos, and when something becomes popular to our group, we assume it's blowing up with everyone. (This happens constantly in beer geek circles and skews a lot of analysis of the craft market.) "Dilly dilly" is pretty popular--searched about as often over the past month as Tom Brady was:

"Dilly Dilly" is the blue line, "Tom Brady" the red.


That's pretty good; Tom Brady is the marquee star in the country's most popular sport. But compare the phrase to another consumer product, the iPhone 8. It is ... not as popular. (And in case you're wondering, "Bud Light" does no better in the comparison than "Dilly Dilly"--it does considerably worse, in fact.)


"iPhone 8" is the top line.


More significantly, "Dilly dilly" hasn't moved sales. One of the best pieces of analysis of the campaign can be found, believe it or not, at the MillerCoors blog. It's straightforward reportage, albeit seasoned with little dashes of covert snark.

“People are talking about Bud Light again right now,” Goeler said, according to the report. Still, both Beer Business Daily and Beer Marketers Insights point out: Bud Light continues to flounder in what is on track to be its worst year ever, according to BMI. What’s more, Bud Light slipped even more in the last four weeks, according to Nielsen all-outlet data. Case volume and sales dollars were each off 8.6 percent in the four weeks ended Nov. 18. That compares with year-to-date figures where sales dollars are down 5.1 percent on a 5.9 percent decline in case volume.

So it is only a modest internet hit and hasn't affected sales in the least (yet). But has it been good for Bud Light? Ad man Dan Fox pointed out that the Whassup ads, though they garnered tons of "talk value" and became a part of pop culture, had absolutely no effect on the brand's market share decline at the time. "A smart marketer once put it succinctly," Fox writes. "Either advertising reverses sales declines, or it's worthless." He goes on to point out a fatal flaw at the heart of the ads:

There is a complete void of anything about Bud Light beer; nothing at all to suggest the beer is distinctive in any way. "Famous among friends" is a fatuous, inarticulate boast at best. There is absolutely nothing said or shown here to cause the audience to want to buy or drink Bud Light.

Gullible brand people who chase comedy masquerading as advertising often become enamored of their role as entertainers. The ego-lure of becoming a pop-culture merchant is powerful. Too often, their ad agencies encourage this lapse in sound business judgement. At the extreme, these buzz-minded "business people" double-down and spend even more money to chase the buzz. Seeing their catch-phrase grow in popular use is their personal high.

And this brings us to a point I've been think a lot about lately. When a company makes a communication, whether it's a tweet or a national TV ad, one of the most important considerations must be: is this strengthening my brand/company? Going back to the question of identity, does the communication reinforce the customer's sense of the brewery? "A brewery that doesn't know its identity, the thing that makes it distinctive and attractive to its customers," I commented, "will over time slip into irrelevance."

With these ads, Bud Light has managed to use a national platform to inject a meme into the public consciousness. But that meme seems to have no connection to the product. I'd love to see some polling data asking people who have seen the ad to name the brewery. My guess is the connection would be tenuous. (In much the same way, I bet people who remember the "Whassup" ads at this point have no memory of the product they advertised.) "Dilly dilly" certainly doesn't refer to the beer or create an association with Bud Light. It doesn't suggest quality or flavor or hit on any of the emotional cues might draw people to the brand. Once the meme has inevitably faded, will there be any lingering effect? The ad has no doubt been great for Wieden and Kennedy, but I can't see how it will help Bud Light.


As a postscript, I leave you with one of the all-time great beer ads that does plant a product directly and permanently into one's brain pan. Everyone of a certain age still remembers this, and damned if it doesn't make me want a pounder right about now.