How Do You Turn an Ad Into a Meme? Two Words: Dilly Dilly

How Do You Turn an Ad Into a Meme? Two Words: Dilly Dilly

F John Parker, another creative director, said he thought he had heard something familiar when he was watching a fourth-quarter play of a “Thursday Night Football” game in November. He was watching with his wife as Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, called out in code to direct his teammates.

“Did he just say ‘dilly dilly’?” he asked his wife. He rewound, and sure enough — yes, he did.

Ben Roethlisberger calling out “dilly dilly” before a Pittsburgh Steelers play. Video by drummsticker

The ad makers had succeeded in creating a genuine meme, which can’t simply be bought by expanding an advertising budget. Attention in social media is harder to buy than a 30-second spot after a punt.

And while memes churn through popular culture at a rapid pace, they are rarely spawned from television advertisements, a medium that has been hit hard by cord-cutting and ad-skipping technology.

“Consumers today have so many more options and things to occupy their time,” said Andy Goeler, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing. “They’re not waiting for the next ad to come on either their mobile phone or TV. It’s much harder today to break through and to connect with that consumer base out there because of all of the multiple options they’re exposed to.”

Still, the fact that Bud Light invests in big-ticket live television events — namely major football games — offered “dilly dilly” a better chance at viral success, Mr. Henderson said. The chances of simply ginning up a meme without that help would be much lower.

“Once people see it a couple of times, they take it online and they use it socially and it grows from there,” he said. “If we tried to take this thing immediately into social media, I don’t know if it would have taken off.”

Mr. Goeler said he believed that “dilly dilly” had surpassed the popularity of “whassup” and the frogs, and he said that the success had prompted Budweiser to expand the campaign. Additional advertisements were created to introduce new characters into the “Game of Thrones”-inspired universe, including a trilogy that will culminate in a Super Bowl ad, he said.

“Dilly dilly” does have a history, notably in the folk song “Lavender Blue,” which Burl Ives recorded in 1949. Another version of the song appeared in the 2015 Disney film “Cinderella,” though the creative directors at Wieden & Kennedy said they were unaware of the song when they wrote the spot.

A version of the folk song “Lavender Blue” in the 2015 “Cinderella.” Video by USS SIS

The creative directors gave credit for the phrase to Alex Ledford, a senior copywriter, and N. J. Placentra, a senior art director. The pair were trying several nonsense phrases when one uttered “dilly dilly,” and it made them laugh.

They claim to have destroyed records of the other phrases they tried, though Mr. Henderson was skeptical.

“They have a list that they either will not share or they have actually lost,” he said.

Attempts by The New York Times to retrieve the list were unsuccessful.

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