The Unintentionally Hilarious Reason Bud Light Was Sued In The '80s

Remember that outrageous Budweiser commercial from the late '90s where a group of friends get on the same phone call together and start screaming "Wazzaaaap?!" back and forth for over a minute? Even if you weren't around at the time, you're probably aware that the commercial went down in history. The first "Scary Movie" iconically spoofed it in 2000 and various other renditions across media platforms have followed throughout the years. 

The commercial, which aired from 1999 to 2002, drew successful publicity for Anheuser-Busch and its affiliates, with Budweiser sales going up 7.9% in the weeks following its first appearance. It even won the Grand Clio at the 41st annual Clio Awards in 2000 (via Chicago Tribune). Hard to imagine a simple Super Bowl commercial becoming a massive cultural phenomenon that lasts years, but nothing's really impossible with a little liquid courage on your side, right? 

No matter how ridiculous, unlikely, or unfathomable something is, it can always happen. Anheuser-Busch actually learned this years before the birth of the legendary "Wazzaaaap?!" saga. By all observable means, there was nothing terribly offensive about the Bud Light commercial that famously led to a lawsuit against the beer company in 1991. Blue skies, sandy beaches, big waves, bikinis, and brews. Sounds like the perfect setting for a Jimmy Buffet song (or every Jimmy Buffet song, for that matter). All the same, one man in particular felt that the advertisement simply went too far (per Time). 

Bud Light was sued for false advertising

Apparently, the casual and seemingly harmless content of the beer commercial showing a beach-dwelling beefcake surrounded by gorgeous women in bathing suits while holding a Bud Light didn't accurately depict the lifestyle of the average brew drinker. According to Time, Richard Overton sued Anheuser-Busch in 1991 for "citing false and misleading advertising" that caused "emotional distress, mental injury and financial loss." In Overton's opinion, there was no real promise of a lavish beach life where a man can effortlessly adorn himself with women simply by cracking an icy bottle of Bud. Somebody should give Red Bull a heads up — as far as we know, nobody has ever sprouted wings after guzzling down a can of their energizing fluid, so they could very easily get sued based on these standards. 

Overton stated that the "scenic tropical settings [and] beautiful women and men engaged in endless and unrestricted merriment" was misleading and deceptive. That's why he decided to sue the company for $10,000 dollars. It's probably also why the case was dismissed entirely and Richard Overton's forebodings were never heeded by consumers, seeing how Bud Light is still one of the most popular beers on the market (via JD Spura). 

Why Richard Overton sued

"I looked at them, and I thought, 'This isn't right,'" Richard Overton told The Kalamazoo Gazette in 2007. "Here are my kids being drawn to part of the culture of alcohol because of this advertising. That's when I figured something needed to be done." In Overton's eyes, society's infatuation with alcohol and making it a spectacle had to be addressed. He felt that his children were being raised in a world that associated the drinking of beer with prosperity, happiness, and authentic fulfillment. That's assuming your definition of paradise is being on a beach with a beer in one hand and a bodacious babe in the other (per Time). 

Maybe you agree with Richard Overton's statements, maybe you don't. Regardless, his gestures and remarks didn't manage to make much of a splash. Bud Light remains Anheuser-Busch's top-selling beer, and in 2019, the company shipped out 27.2 million barrels of it. It's currently consumed more than any other beer in the United States (via Fortune).