Most of us are all too familiar with product placement. (Really. They made a movie about Google internships.) What many of us probably didn’t know is marketing and creativity have been playing a tender game of footsie under the boardroom meeting table for decades. Witness: Hanna-Barbera’s 20 minute Anheuser-Busch cartoon, featuring, for some reason, The Flintstones.
To be fair, this isn’t a cartoon spot a ton of kids saw. It’s not like they had Fred and Barney drinking a six pack after work at the end of a regular episode, getting pulled over for a dino-DUI and subtly encouraging their 10 year-old audience to “Yabba dabba drink!” No, this epic bizarro Flinstones spot is “closed circuit,” as they announce around the 9-minute mark, specifically made for Anheuser-Busch wholesalers. Featuring, again for some reason, The Flintstones.
It’s easy to get confused, since the title—“1967 Busch Advertising”—only comes out halfway through the cartoon, emblazoned on the side of a wagon featuring, of course, Clydes-dinos. Prior to that, it just seems like a regular, if slightly grim, episode, in which Fred and Barney lose their jobs due to a domineering boss (and a dash of gross incompetence) and go to a bar to drink. And while some hilarious, seemingly innocent hijinks ensue—like Fred throwing a dart that is an actual living bird at a dartboard—the goals eventually become pretty clear: it’s a corporate cartoon to showcase advertising “that moves the consumer to Busch. To help you in the selling organization,” to quote the creepy voiceover, “move Busch to the consumer.”
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If this all seems far too controversial or dashes your dreams of nostalgic innocence a bit too harshly, we encourage you a) not to read on, and b) not to watch these egregious Flintstones Winston Cigarettes spots. (Just FYI, according to Fred, Winston is “the one filter cigarette that delivers flavor 20 times a pack.”) It kind of only gets worse. Think of Fred Flintstone proudly squawing: “when you’re due for a beer, Busch does it!” Even classically fumbling Barney knows “it takes know-how to work in the beer business.”
Perhaps the creepiest aspect of the whole thing is Busch’s concept of how beer works. When Fred and Barney’s angry boss, Mr. Slate, comes into the bar, Fred and Barney get him to drink a Busch, and then—naturally—a disembodied female arm appears out of a golden glitter cloud above Mr. Slate’s head and sexily whispers “calm down, sweetheart.” The same hand reappears a beat later, pets Mr. Slate’s head, and convinces him to give Fred and Barney a raise. “Be reasonable, tiger.” Yes, in case you’re wondering, this cartoon begins to feel like a David Lynch movie.
So why on earth was it made? Evidence points entirely to money, since The Flintstones were on from 1960 to 1966, and this cartoon/corporate chimera was intended for a 1967 selling year (meaning it would have been shown in 1966). The best guess is some savvy Flintstone’s producers realized they’d run out of ideas for touching and/or hilarious prehistoric story lines (the spin-off, “Bamm-Bamm Goes to College,” failed miserably), and decided to go out with a bunch of cash from Anheuser-Busch. To complement their Winston Cig money, of course.
It continues, of course, mixing the human and cartoon world in ways we hoped would never happen. In segment two, we finally see some real Busch advertising, e.g. “There are all kinds of frequent beer drinkers. Like this one,” at which point they show a befuddled marching band leader—which we can all identify with—who clearly needs a Busch or two to live with his life choices. Barney asks Fred what he would’ve done in the beleaguered marching band leader’s position and Fred attests he would also get himself “a bottle of Busch, relax, and forget the whole thing.”
Just a huge heads up, “the way Busch does it” (beyond brewing their beer…”straight”? which means nothing, by the way) is incredibly sexist. Luckily, the era of girls jumping in bikinis in basically every beer or food commercial has subsided. But in this cartoon you get a flavor of that old school, crusty and self-assured misogyny. Per our creepy voiceover dude, “Busch target advertising captures that moment, when a guy forgets his problems.”
Really, the whole thing is marketed towards dudes, and in the second half, Fred and Barney watch some examples of Busch advertisements the way good corporate lackeys do. One such commercial—involving real human actors—has some painters at a nail salon trying to do their detailed, powerfully difficult work amidst the rampant lady-chattiness. A nail painter gets the idea she can climb a ladder in her heels and help, does a (predictably) miserable job, and the painters just give each other “let’s go get that Busch beer and dish about oppressing women” look.
There’s more to it, but it’s all the same. And you don’t need to watch, though you should, with plenty of non Busch beer around, since you’ll hear things like “You’ve seen how these words along with pictures look on television.” (Meaning…advertisements?) And we’ve just all gone officially insane.
At some point either Fred or Barney or probably a talking rock smoking a Winston, wearing an Apple watch, and chugging Snapple says “How can they miss with that target advertising?” Don’t think they did. Somewhere, today, a dude in a cave is really, really enjoying his Busch beer.