The Super Bowl is really two forms of competition: the game that’s played on the field and the competition among advertisers that spend millions to generate buzz for their brands.
This year, the world’s largest brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) says it is scheduled to book at least three minutes of advertising for the 2017 Super Bowl—a big bet on the game’s ability to draw viewers as advertisers are reportedly expected to pay Fox $5 million or more for just a 30-second spot. The brewer is planning to highlight four brands: Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob ULTRA (which all advertised last year) and Busch, which is a newcomer to Super Bowl advertising.
At a media preview event at AB InBev’s Chelsea office in New York City, marketing guru Marcel Marcondes outlined how AB InBev was planning to tackle the Super Bowl: No celebrities, a new “Famous Among Friends” tagline for Bud Light, and a spot for Michelob ULTRA that seemed almost athleisure inspired. While AB InBev showed none of the full ads to the press (they are still working on all of the campaigns), Marcondes did provide details about his overall vision.
“I really believe consumers are getting tired of campaigns that feel like a campaign,” said Marcel Marcondes, vice president of marketing at AB InBev. “I don’t believe in that approach. Consumers are looking for brands they respect.”
Bud Light—a brand that often was backed by loud marketing spots like 2015’s “Up For Whatever” and last year’s election-themed “Bud Light Party”—is angling for a different approach by aiming to tie the beer to friendship. Budweiser, meanwhile, is drawing inspiration from the beer’s founder Adolphus Busch. That’s a form of advertising that is popular in the liquor industry, as Ketel One vodka, Jameson whiskey and others have talked about heritage to sell the quality story of their brands.
Budweiser and Bud Light are each getting 60-second spots, while Michelob ULTRA and Busch are each getting 30-second commercials. AB InBev said more additional time could be bought closer to the game. Last year for Super Bowl 50, it ran 3.5 minutes of campaigns in several different commercials (originally the plan was for three minutes).
The marketing jolt that AB InBev is planning for the Super Bowl comes as the brewer continues to report lower volumes in the U.S.—the decline was 1.1% for the first nine months of 2016 from the prior-year period. Budweiser and Bud Light sales to retailers have both been declining over that period, though Michelob ULTRA is advertising from a position of strength. That brand’s volume is up over 20% year-to-date, gaining more market share than any other beer for the last six quarters. AB InBev didn’t break out specific sales trends for Busch, which is a lower priced “value” beer.
Marcondes says the big challenge the marketers face today: consumers have thousands of beer brands to choose from these days. “It is hard to identify who is who and what these brands stand for,” he said. “Brands need to stand for something that is strong and clear to consumers.”
The goal to drive that message home is to invest not only in the big splashy Super Bowl ads, but also to generate interest via social media challenges. Some of AB InBev’s commercials and campaigns will be released digitally prior to the game’s broadcast on February 5. That practice has become increasingly popular from marketers aiming to get more bang for their buck.