Brothers? Lovers? Friends? A new Budweiser ad about a soldier returning home from a tour of duty is maddeningly ambiguous about the same-sex relationship at its center. First, here’s the ad. Give it a gander. (It’s restricted-access to ages 21 and older on YouTube, but so is all of Budweiser’s official material.)
The most obvious and straightforward take is that the two men are best friends. But who calls a best friend before one’s own family? Also, there’s something weighted in the initial contact, with the guy back home taking the call in bed. Could it be his brother? Maybe so, but then why would the commercial omit some establishment of that relationship, like, “Hey little brother, mom’s been worried sick?”
Then there’s the actual reunion. The male friend is the surprise-party organizer, and the first to greet the soldier at the door with a warm embrace, followed by a platonic hug from tearful woman (probably a sister), and finally his mother.
What’s remarkable here is not that the commercial is overtly gay—it’s not—but rather that it isn’t overtly heterosexual. It’s overturning our expectation at these cliched scenes, the expectation being that a woman would be the first to greet a soldier upon his return from war.
There are no accidents at this level of advertising. Having seen the new Morgan Spurlock movie, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, I now know all about neuromarketing—where test groups submit themselves to brain scans as they watch dozens of ads just like these, after which the ads are tweaked and fine-tuned to produce exactly the emotional reaction desired.
So don’t ask and don’t tell, ‘cause this Bud’s for you.