Retro Commercials: Spuds MacKenzie for Bud Light

I don’t know about you, but commercials can often take me back to my formative years as quickly as any song or movie can. That is why we will continue this semi-regular feature on ’80s commercials that I consider particularly memorable, noteworthy, or forgotten. Television commercials were much more influential back when we were forced to watch them without the luxury to fast-forward through and/or stream shows with limited or no interruptions. This issue will cover the Spuds MacKenzie commercials for Bud Light which began in 1987 and took the late ’80s by storm.

Spuds MacKenzie: The Original Party Animal made his commercial debut during Super Bowl XXI on January 25, 1987. He had previously been featured in some print advertising sitting behind a chalice of Bud Light while wearing a Delta Omicron Gamma fraternity sweatshirt and the reaction was so strong that it was only natural they use Spuds on television, too. Here is that very first commercial featuring Spuds…

The Bud Light campaign was developed by Chicago advertising agency Needham Harper & Steers. Anheuser-Busch later added PR firm Fleishman Hillard to act as brand manager for Spuds MacKenzie as he became a pop culture phenomenon. Spuds MacKenzie became a celebrity almost over night. Needless to say, the advertising campaign was a huge success. Bud Light credited the Spuds campaign with boosting sales by 20% between 1987 and 1988!

Spuds MacKenzie was actually played by a female bull terrier named Honey Tree Evil Eye (or “Evie” for short). Yes, Spuds was actually a girl. She had a distinctive spot over her left eye and the right temperament for the job. Evie was owned by Jackie and Stanley Oles and they made their home in suburban Chicago. The same dog appeared in all of the ads and made all of the public appearances for the length of the campaign as well. Anheuser-Busch decided to retire Spuds in 1989 after a crazy couple of years and Evie the dog would live until 1993.

Most of the commercial spots featured Robin Leach, well-known for Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, doing the voiceover hyping up “the original party animal”. They also featured a group of attractive women (later known as the “Spudettes”) and you may recognize one of them as actress Lela Rochon. Spuds brought the party with him everywhere he went and here are a few more commercials proving that point.

This was the Bid Light commercial featured during Super Bowl XXII in 1988…

This one was used during the 1988 Winter Olympics…

Then they also needed some for during the 1988 Summer Olympics…

This one was for Halloween in 1988…

You may notice that there weren’t any Christmas commercials included. For Christmas 1987, legal action resulted from Budweiser’s use of ads featuring Spuds dressed as Santa, which is illegal in states such as Ohio. Some states have a law that prohibits Santa Claus from being used to sell alcohol, so Anheuser-Busch had to pull all cartons featuring images of Spuds dressed as Santa as well as any advertising. This was only a small speed bump since sales were still up significantly on Bud Light resulting from the Spuds campaign.

It wasn’t just the beer that Spuds MacKenzie was selling. There were all kinds of merchandise sold to take advantage of the dog’s popularity. In fact, over 200 officially licensed Spuds MacKenzie items were available for sale at one point. Posters of Spuds and the Spudettes were the most popular pin-ups in the country in 1987 and 1988. A variety of T-shirts and other apparel were quite popular as well. There were even Spuds plush stuffed animals for sale. This raised a question to at least some folks if Anheuser-Busch was marketing alcohol to kids. (I was a minor at the time and I know they sure got my attention!)

Senator Strom Thurmond (of South Carolina) formally questioned whether the intent of the commercials was to glamorize the use of alcohol among people too young to legally drink. Other organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest as well as Mothers Against Drunk Driving alleged similar claims. Some schools were actually banning students from wearing the popular Spuds MacKenzie clothing.

No evidence of wrong-doing was specifically found and Anheuser-Busch obviously denied those allegations of marketing to children, but they eventually evolved the primary message of the Spuds MacKenzie commercials. The message of the commercials changed to a message of partying “in control” and “know when to say when”. Here are a couple featuring that new message…

As mentioned earlier, as the decade came to an end, so did the Spuds MacKenzie advertising campaign for Bud Light. It was time to move on to something new, but it sure was fun while it lasted.

There you go, another trip down memory lane in the form of TV commercials.  I was not of drinking age yet when these commercials aired, but I remember being a big fan of Spuds MacKenzie. I was not alone since he (she) became a pop culture phenomenon and a true icon of the decade. Budweiser has had many memorable ad campaigns over the years, but to me, Spuds MacKenzie will always be my favorite. And, yep you guessed it, it happened in the ’80s.

About OldSchool80s 58 Articles
Old School Tim has an adoring devotion to the awesome '80s decade. He loves to relive and share that nostalgia on a regular basis. The Kickin' it Old School blog site has been retired, but you can still get daily doses of '80s goodness on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and anywhere else they let him.