What goes online

If I were in marketing, I guess I wouldn't want to leave buzz to chance. So, perhaps, I can understand the thought behind Rolling Rock's latest advertising campaign - featuring a beer ape and men in thongs.

If I were in marketing, I guess I wouldn't want to leave buzz to chance. So, perhaps, I can understand the thought behind Rolling Rock's latest advertising campaign - featuring a beer ape and men in thongs.

Not content to leave frat boy humor to the more established brands, Rolling Rock, which, in the M&A-loving beer market, is owned by Anheiser-Busch, ran an advertising campaign featuring overtly man's man jokes about a leering ape at a party and an office situation where a man will endure humiliation for a refrigerator full of beer.

If you watched the Super Bowl last Sunday - or indeed any television in the last month - you would not have seen this ad. Rolling Rock, for its part, has been claiming in a "wink-wink" fashion that the ads were pulled over public protestations for its juvenile content. This is all according to a Rolling Rock "VP of marketing," Ron Stablehorn, who doesn't exactly exist. What did run on television were advertisements with an actor playing Stablehorn, who apologized for the "offensive" ads. If you were curious about the "pulled" ads he referenced, they could be viewed online. Rolling Rock, thy name is buzz.  

Viewed emotionlessly, Rolling Rock touched all the bases. They promised offense, which is a classic case of classic conditioning to ensure pageviews. They set up a redirect site - friendsofrollingrock.com - that will give them near-exact monitoring of hits and traffic specifically pertaining to the campaign.

In an Ad Age story about Rolling Rock ad agency Goodby, Silverstein, the magazine responded positively to the faux controversy, saying the "bad" ads drew 3.2 million hits on YouTube and elsewhere.

And if YouTube didn't allow comments, one might think, "That's a lot of hits, and that's the end of that."

But venture through the comments, and they neatly alternate between someone wondering aloud why the ad was pulled to someone chastising the idiocy of the former commenter, telling them it was a false controversy. In the end, no one enjoys being fooled.

So, with Rolling Rock, the manufactured controversy included an ad that confused net denizens as to whether or not it should have been banned. And maybe the stunt drove traffic and temporarily reinvigorated the brand. But the flagging Rolling Rock needs ads and branding with more staying power if they are to gain any market share. Beer ape can only do so much, when he's disowned and only available online.

What Goes Online is a regular web column by PRWeek News Editor Keith O'Brien

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