Welcome home, drink beer: Foreign Policy mag breaks down the tensions behind that Winter Park Budweiser Super Bowl ad
Even though we were all a little excited for our little northern burg of Winter Park – along with a soldier returning home from Afghanistan, 1st Lieutenant Chuck Nadd – to be featured in the prime emotional real estate of this year’s Super Bowl advertising blitz, we were also a little suspicious at the fact that it was all a big sympathy play for mass-market beer behemoth Budweiser. Apparently, we weren’t alone. Last week, Foreign Policy magazine released the results of its public information requests from the U.S. Army and they reveal something a little more cynical than an impromptu clop with the Clydesdales. You remember the ad, right? Here it is.
Well, according to Foreign Policy, the Pentagon doesn’t look to fondly upon attempts to associate uniformed soldiers with beer.
Behind the scenes, the ad’s development bred frustration and legal concerns among Army officials, according to emails released to Foreign Policy through the Freedom of Information Act. Top Army officers even considered issuing a cease-and-desist order against Budweiser’s parent company, beer giant Anheuser-Busch, on Jan. 30, just three days before the Super Bowl. Their concern: The commercial appeared to clearly violate longstanding service policies that prevent active-duty personnel from endorsing private companies or doing anything that could be construed as glamorizing alcohol. The discussion to issue a cease-and-desist order occurred after the soldier in the commercial, 1st Lt. Chuck Nadd, reported to his commanders that he had done an interview in uniform during his homecoming and did not know that cameras following him were collecting footage that would be used in a Super Bowl ad. The Army ultimately signed off on the commercial, and Nadd appeared on television at the NFL championship game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., seconds after the 60-second spot aired — but not before a flurry of phone calls and discussions between Army officials and the beer giant days before Super Bowl Sunday.
Army officials declined to answer a series of questions posed by FP, including whether Anheuser-Busch had received approval from appropriate service officials to film Nadd for the commercial, whether the lieutenant’s chain of command knew there were concerns about him participating, and if anyone was disciplined as a result. They also did not answer the biggest question: Why the commercial was ultimately approved despite the bans on soldiers appearing to endorse products or help sell alcohol. But Col. David Patterson, an Army spokesman, did say in a statement that Defense Department officials “ultimately determined” not to pursue a cease-and-desist order.
It is an interesting conundrum, one that Budweiser’s folks didn’t pay any mind to, really. Because they speak like this:
“The Budweiser ‘Hero’s Welcome’ Super Bowl commercial has received overwhelming support, as it reinforces Budweiser’s long-standing relationship with the U.S. military,” the spokesman said. “In celebrating one soldier, the spot seeks to recognize the thousands of troops who will return home this year. We had U.S. Army support while producing this ad, which encourages citizens to salute soldiers.”
Also, further adding insult to, well, injury was the fact that there was a sort of casting call vibe from the VFW to finally zeroing in on Nadd, and it involved this tasty bit of tastelessness.
“It’s important that this soldier embodies the spirit of dedication, camaraderie, strength, and goodness the American people want so badly to celebrate,” the VFW official’s email said. “Their [sic] looking for a family man. Someone who is revered by his hometown and loved by his family and friends. There [sic] looking for someone who is gracious in the face of adversity and adulation alike. In short, he’s got to be okay with surprises.”
By the end of the whole saga, the Pentagon ultimately approved of the ad, doing a complete 180 in effect and nobody really knows why. The Army’s chief public affairs officer Brig. Gen. Gary Volesky eventually issued this statement, just before Nadd’s Super Bowl showing and his day-after appearance on Fox and Friends.
“We appreciate the cooperative effort you and the VFW undertook in support of our servicemen and women,” Volesky wrote, copying a senior civilian official at the Pentagon, Rene Bardorf, on the email. “We have no objection of you using our service member in your piece.”
Anyway, you should read the whole story here, because it’s fun to watch a chain of command unravel. And let’s not forget how excited Winter Park got about the whole thing. City government was falling all over itself with hops and happiness, never even mentioning the association in this piece from the Sentinel’s Winter Park forum.
“This was a thrilling event for us to participate in,” Bradley said during the Feb. 10 Winter Park City Commission meeting. “We thought we were giving a hometown welcome to a hometown hero.” It was even better, the mayor said, that it led to a commercial shown on television that put Winter Park on the map for literally millions of viewers. The mayor even used the city commission meeting at City Hall to show on video that commercial, which featured clips from the parade as Nadd was greeted by the crowd. “The city was featured to millions of viewers around the world,” Bradley said. Posting it on YouTube, he said, has since made it continuously available for viewers to discover and enjoy. “As of today, there have been 8.9 million views of this ad featuring Winter Park,” the mayor said. “There have been 55,000 Google news alerts for our city. This is the best way for me to feature the best of Winter Park.” When the city was initially asked to host the parade, Bradley, they were not told it would become the basis for a commercial during the Super Bowl. The city wanted to give Nadd the parade, Bradley said, because they were eager to honor his service to the country. “It was a true city effort to make it happen,” Bradley said. “The fact that it’s become a Super Bowl ad is even better.”
All’s well that ends well, we guess.