Mr. Robot went retro, and Bud Light happily followed suit.
Wednesday night’s episode of the critically-acclaimed drama opened with an extended hallucination by its main character, mentally-unhinged hacker Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), in which Elliot found himself fully immersed in a late 80s/early 90s-style multi-camera sitcom, complete with a cheesy opening credit sequence, corny one-liners, and, of course, a laugh track. Even Alf made an appearance. (If you’ve never seen Mr. Robot, this is a tonal shock akin to putting on a Gwar album but hearing Kenny G instead.)
Along with Elliot, the audience was also brought back in time. The scene was presented in standard definition, shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, and featured an old “USA” logo watermarked in the bottom right corner (as opposed to the current one that sits bottom left). When it was time for a commercial break on the show-within-the-show—at about the time Mr. Robot would have normally gone to a commercial—we stayed in the 90s look and feel and watched an ad for a movie called “The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie”, which had appeared in a previous episode of Mr. Robot. Clearly, we were still stuck in Elliot’s fantasy.
But then Bud Light showed up. We saw a 1990 spot, called “Everything else is just a light,” featuring the brand’s classic logo and bottle design.
After the Bud Light spot came a fictional ad for E-Corp, the villainous multinational at the heart of Mr. Robot. Bud Light’s ad was the only “real” ad to show up in Elliot’s hallucination.
It’s interesting to note that prior to the show’s airing, creator/writer/director Sam Esmail tweeted:
To our streaming viewers, you should watch tonight’s episode of #MrRobot live with the commercials. Trust me on this.
— Sam Esmail (@samesmail) August 10, 2016
And now we know why. If you watch the episode now on USA’s streaming service, the Bud Light ad does not air. (That’s one way to urge live viewership, we suppose…)
Yet—upon live viewing—if we look at where the Bud Light ad was featured in Mr. Robot’s narrative, it’s fair to consider the spot an elaborate and creatively-executed instance of one-time product placement, and less so a brand simply recycling a classic advertisement. The Bud Light ad was the only non-original ad during the “commercial break”, clearly taking place in the show-within-the-show, which was happening only in the mind of the main character. If we allow that what we saw on screen before Elliot woke up was in his head, then what we were actually watching was Elliot’s recollection of a classic Bud Light ad.
Whether that’s your reading of it or not, give credit to all involved. Esmail has taken a fair number of chances with Mr. Robot, but this is by far the biggest yet. USA Network and Bud Light playing along made the segment even more interesting and immersive. It shows that a brand can still make some next-day buzz if they’re willing to do something a bit different.