Unless you were living under a rock in 1999 and the early 2000s, then you probably remember the infamous “Whassup!” Budweiser campaign that featured a football game, Budweiser beers and four friends who all got on the phone to say “Whassup!”
The comical phrase became one of the most recognizable pop culture greetings in America and the mind behind the commercial is now an ad executive at a Chicago agency. Vinny Warren helped conceptualize the commercial back in 1999 when he was working at New York-based DDB Worldwide.
In 2006, he left the firm with Norm Bilow, who also worked at DDB, and together they launched The Escape Pod, an independent, full-service ad agency in Fulton Market. And true to its name, the agency has served as an escape from the dreads of corporate life for both Warren and Bilow.
“When you work at a big agency, half your day is politics and bullshit, and at The Escape Pod, 100 percent of our day is working on a client’s business,” Bilow said. “It will always be a nice escape.”
The Escape Pod, which has worked with about 25 clients this year in food, beverage, technology and retail industries, mainly produces television commercials and online video ads, but they also make websites, mobile apps and print ads. Their clients include Toys “R” Us, OfficeMax and Whole Foods.
“Our idea was to create an advertising agency that would roll with the times and not get locked into any particular medium or technology,” Warren said.
Within the last two years, they’ve purchased a stake in digital studio ORA Interactive and experiential agency OutCold to form The Escape Pod Group. Altogether, the group has 88 full-time employees, 31 of which work at The Escape Pod.
As a result of the purchases, the agency saw a 25 percent increase in year over year growth and is projected to see an additional 20 percent increase in growth this year, Bilow said. The Escape Pod is also among Chicago Inno’s finalists for this year’s 50 on Fire awards.
Another contributing factor to their success: That “Whassup!” commercial. Warren said after the ad aired, he became well-known in the advertising industry, making it easier to score clients and establish The Escape Pod as a trusted agency.
He got the idea for the Budweiser campaign from a short film, titled “True,” which featured friends saying “Whassup” to each other in a silly way.
“I thought this would work for a bunch of reasons, but most specifically because it’s a mirror-image of a TV-viewer situation,” Warren said. “And ‘whassup’ is American for ‘hello.’ If Budweiser can own guys saying ‘hello’ to each other, that’s pretty big.”
Beyond the commercial, the joke has been referenced to several times in pop culture, especially in widely-watched TV shows of the 2000s, like “The Office” and “Friends.” And in 2006, the campaign was inducted into the CLIO Hall of Fame.
To this day, people still greet Warren by saying “Whassup!”
“It never dies,” he said.
And though the repetitiveness of the reference sometimes gets old, he’s OK with going down in history as the guy that created that ad.
“It was success beyond my wildest dreams,” Warren said. “Most people never get that. Most people don’t get remembered for anything.”