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  • Staff file photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A clydesdale horse is led into its stall in front of visitors in the stables at the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Plant in Merrimack May 1, 2008.
  • Staff file photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    Lou Davis grooms one of the clydesdales at the Anheuser-Busch Plant in Merrimack, May 1, 2008. The horses are cleaned often in their own shower room.

  • Staff file photo by Bob Hammerstrom

    A clydesdale is walked from the pasture into the boarding house at the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Plant in Merrimack May 1, 2008.



Sunday, February 7, 2010

Clydesdales back in the game

America’s favorite Clydesdales won’t be put out to pasture for today’s Super Bowl after all.

In a rare instance of recapturing a horse after it had left the barn, Anheuser-Busch reversed its decision and will run an advertisement featuring the popular Budweiser Clydesdales during the NFL’s championship game.

Although the draft horses in the ad won’t be the ones that are stabled in Merrimack, the Clydesdales nonetheless bring a sense of familiarity to a series of television commercials that will promote everything from cars to soap.

Anheuser-Busch purchased five minutes of advertising from CBS, the network that will carry the game, said Mike Bulthaus, the company’s director of brand communications.

But the Clydesdale commercial that initially came back from the ad agency was 30 seconds long and didn’t have enough time to tell a full story, he said. The ad also didn’t work with small focus groups, he said.

“It wasn’t quite the bigness that you’d expect from a Budweiser Clydesdale ad,” Bulthaus said.

Anheuser-Busch chose to run nine ads for Budweiser, Bud Light and two other Anheuser-Busch beers, and for the first time in eight Super Bowls, a Clydesdale wouldn’t help market Bud.

Media outlets that cover advertising picked up on the exclusion of the Clydesdales. Just as those stories appeared, Anheuser-Busch received an extended version of the ad, and this new 60-second spot gave the story the kick it needed, Bulthaus said.

At the same time, Anheuser- Busch placed the revised Clydesdale ad on its Facebook page and asked fans to choose between it and two other commercials. The Clydesdale spot was a fan favorite, and sure enough, Anheuser-Bush announced Thursday it had reshuffled its Super Bowl advertising lineup to include the horses.

The Clydesdales have made a mark on an event celebrated as much for its television commercials as the game itself. Super Bowl audiences have seen Clydesdales in 12 Super Bowl ads, doing everything from pulling a red Studebaker beer wagon to playing a football game in the snow.

Recognition certainly helps in a venture that’s “part art, part science,” said Josh Lauer, an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Hampshire.

“It’s very hard under any circumstance to make an advertisement that’s water-cooler- worthy,” Lauer said. “The pressure of all the money spent makes some advertisers really raise the bar.

“But even if you have all the money in the world and the most talent … it’s hard to know what will stick.”

A television spot for this Super Bowl reportedly cost at least $2.5 million. That may seem like a lot of money, but with advertisers trying to reach an expected audience of 100 million, it’s a risk worth taking, Lauer said.

For one, pre-game publicity about the ads almost eclipses the pre-game hype of the Super Bowl, Lauer said. With a Super Bowl commercial, an advertiser not only gets 30 seconds of exposure, but nearly three weeks of media coverage, he said.

Indeed, Anheuser-Busch has received a lot of press over the Clydesdales. Many viewers sitting down for the game will now know to keep an eye out for the horses – and a bull.

The commercial will feature a young Clydesdale running opposite a fence that pens a calf, Bulthaus said. The Clydesdale trots off, but the calf can’t.

Flash forward three years. The Clydesdale, again, isn’t impeded, Bulthaus said, but this time, the calf, now a bull, “has no problem going through the fence.”

Even though the horses in the ad aren’t the ones you see when visiting the brewery in Merrimack, there was some advertising history made there.

The first Clydesdales holiday commercial aired in 1976, showing the Merrimack-based hitch returning home for the holidays on a snowy evening.

The first commercials featuring the Clydesdales that introduced them as the symbol of Budweiser aired in 1956.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.