Budweiser’s Despicable “Hero’s Welcome” Ad Leaves a Bad Taste

The cheap beer manufacturer gave Super Bowl watchers a cheap cry, at the expense of U.S. Veterans.

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Dressed in his Army camouflage, the soldier descends the airport escalator and walks into the arms of his waiting girlfriend. Army Lt. Chuck Nadd has just returned from Afghanistan, and this is the happy ending for which every soldier’s family wishes. Now the camera cuts to the couple in an SUV driving past a red barn painted with the words “Welcome Home Soldier.” As the P. Diddy/Skylar Grey song “Coming Home” plays in the background, Lt. Nadd and his fiancée, Shannon Cantwell, step out of the vehicle to find a crowd of people gathered, many holding hand-written signs saying, “We [HEART] Chuck.” A man wearing a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) hat puts his hand on the soldier’s shoulder and says, “Welcome home Chuck. This is all for you.” A tickertape parade through Lt. Nadd’s hometown of Winter Park, Florida, follows, during which his mother rushes out of the crowd to greet him.

It’s a heart-rending scene guaranteed to provoke tears. A community has opened its arms to welcome home a young soldier returning from a war. There’s just one problem—the poignant scene is a sham. This is not a spontaneous outpouring of support; it’s a carefully scripted PR stunt orchestrated by Anheuser-Busch for the purpose of filming the beer ad that aired during Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII. It’s no accident that Lt. Nadd and his girlfriend appear in the parade riding on a Budweiser wagon pulled by the beer company’s signature Clydesdale horses. Like the well-meaning veterans and citizens of Winter Park who turned out for the parade, they are props in a production staged to boost brand loyalty and sales of Budweiser.

But it’s not just Anheuser-Busch that hopes to promote itself with the ad. “To have our city featured during Super Bowl XLVIII is a special privilege and to know this honors our brave soldiers makes it even better,” Winter Park mayor Ken Bradley said in a press release. Apparently honoring brave soldiers was just a pleasant add-on to the thrill of having his city featured on national TV. The Department of Defense, too, was in on the charade. According to Mike Schneider of the Associated Press, Lt. Nadd’s battalion leader told him that he was being sent home early for a “public affairs” assignment. His arrival would be chronicled by a camera crew filming a “documentary” about soldiers coming home from Afghanistan, and he’d travel to Winter Park to give a speech to his hometown VFW. What’s left unsaid is whether Lt. Nadd was given an opportunity to consent to his role shilling for a multi-billion dollar beer company or what kind of payment he received in return.

What’s certain though is that the Super Bowl spot benefitted Lt. Nadd’s employer by sending a message that good soldiers like him are returning home safely to a public that will thank them for their service. Never mind the many soldiers who came home deeply wounded or packed in flag-draped coffins or the ongoing needs of these veterans and their families.

An Anheuser-Busch press release said that the ad “Will kick off a yearlong social media campaign in which Budweiser encourages consumers to honor the U.S. military using hashtag #salute,” but exactly how a Twitter hashtag will help veterans remains unexplained.

Lt. Nadd was selected to star in the ad after Cantwell, who works for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama, nominated him in a contest sponsored by the VFW. In the ad, she’s attractive and articulate, and she does one heck of an acting job, feigning surprise at the crowd she’s helped gather to welcome her partner home.

For his part, Lt. Nadd appears earnest and thoughtful. “I hope the visibility [the ad] gets starts a conversation about recognizing those who have served and served in a greater capacity than I have,” Nadd told the AP’s Mike Schneider. “I would hope this commercial helps people look for those heroes in their communities.” This is where America’s advertising culture has taken us—to a point where fine people like Lt. Nadd are willing to pad a billion dollar company’s bottom line in return for the hope that the firm’s advertisements will raise “awareness” of issues they believe in.

Anheuser-Busch also produced a slick five-minute video showing a behind the scenes glimpse at how the ad came together, and it provides a more nuanced look at the issues facing veterans. “I felt like I got to get out of jail or something,” says Jack Brooks, a veteran of World War II and the Korea and Vietnam wars, describing the return from his deployments. “I was disappointed about that.” One of the most moving moments comes when Vietnam veteran Dave Carroll says, “We didn’t tell anybody we were in Vietnam and ugh, that’s why…” his voice trails off as gets too choked up to speak. For too long, our society has marginalized the experiences of veterans like him, and the Super Bowl ad leaves him voiceless once again.

In another scene, Joe Chavara, identified as the former Rotary club president, says of the parade, “This is just a great thing to let the community know, hey listen—all these people are getting out this year and we need to really do the right thing by them.”

He’s absolutely right—we owe it to our soldiers to do right by them, and the way to do this isn’t by exploiting their service for a feel-good pitch to sell cheap beer. Lt. Nadd and our other vets deserve far more than 60 seconds of teary eyes from Americans sitting on the couch devouring chicken wings. Ultimately, that’s the biggest problem with the Budweiser ad—it gives football fans the feeling that they’ve done their part to thank the men and women who fought two wars on their behalf, so that they can get back to the game and their beer.

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