Bros Icing Bros: The “Punch Buggy” of the 21st Century

Published September 13, 2010
Last modified September 13, 2010

Most companies would be thrilled if an unsolicited, consumer-based Internet campaign brought a surge in sales and brand visibility to one of its signature products. But in the case of the year’s most ubiquitous viral ad campaign, Bros Icing Bros, the bromance between Smirnoff Ice and its newfound audience of dudes was broken off quickly.

Bros Icing Bros is a pop culture drinking game, involving biological males and a sugary, fruit-flavored malt liquor beverage. One "ices" their intended victim by placing an unopened, 11.2-ounce bottle of Smirnoff Ice in the path of the prank’s intended victim. Upon discovering the unopened beverage, said victim is then obliged to drop to one knee and chug the entire bottle without stopping.

Why is this considered funny? And why Smirnoff Ice? Because Smirnoff Ice is a widely maligned “sissy drink” perceived as being marketed toward women. It’s described by the Village Voice as “one of the grossest malt liquor drinks ever to grace the planet.” The humor lies in the perception that no sane male wants to be seen drinking a Smirnoff Ice.

And the public drank it up. In April, an anonymous joker registered the domain and documented the "official" rules of the game. Soon after, the site began to receive more than 100 submissions per day. An official Facebook group frew to more than 20,000 fans and sales of Smirnoff flavored malt beverages increased in April and May  -- by 1.6%, according to market researchers IRI.

By mid-June, however, it was shut down. Its parting message: “We had a good run Bros…”

Despite the game's success in making Smirnoff Ice a frat house name, Diageo, PLC, the London-based corporation responsible for selling Smirnoff Ice (and very notably, more booze than anyone else on earth) is the most likely source behind the shuttering of the BrosIcingBros website.

Within days of the site's closure, the company issued a statement and said:

“Diageo has taken measures to stop this misuse of its Smirnoff Ice brand and marks, and to make it clear that 'icing' does not comply with our marketing code, and was not created or promoted by Diageo, Smirnoff Ice, or anyone associated with Diageo.”

Still, the act of "icing" continues. Its become an almost universal practice at barbecues and even weddings. Hell, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg publicly iced one of his own direct reports.

At this rate, the phenomenon could become as everlasting as, "Jinx! Buy me a Coke!" or "Punch Buggy!"

This bonanza of free publicity is the kind of things marketing departments dream about, but can do little to orchestrate. And despite Diageo's efforts to put the freeze on the campaign, icing is unlikely to stop anytime soon.

“The great thing about organic viral campaigns is that even once the initial hype wears off, guys will still Ice their friends for years to come...think of 'punch buggy' for VW,” says Dave Hale, CEO of Soshal Group, an interactive online customer engagement company based in Ottawa, Canada. “Brand interaction will always trump other mediums, and what better way then to interact by quickly consuming the product and going back for more?”

If Hale's right, keep your eyes peeled, because no one is safe.