SBJ/September 7 - 13, 1998/No Topic Name

Budweiser launches blimp campaign in a hail of home runs

Anheuser-Busch was looking for a way to launch a highly visible advertising campaign that would cross through several sports that it sponsors.

And along came Mark McGwire. Which is as visible as you get right now.

McGwire's home run quest is at the heart of the first of a series of commercials the brewery will air in the coming months on behalf of its flagship brand, Budweiser.

The campaign, which debuted on Aug. 30, features two sports fans known as the "Blimp Guys" who cruise the country in the Bud One Airship, passing over sporting events along the way.

The first spot, which ties to Budweiser's official sponsor status with Major League Baseball, has the Blimp Guys flying over a St. Louis Cardinals game, discussing the excitement of baseball's home run-filled summer. They proudly display a shredded baseball that found its way into one of their propellers, evidence of Mc- Gwire's prodigious power.

Then they cut away briefly to footage of a McGwire home run swing, tagged by the Budweiser label with a notation that it's Major League Baseball's official beer.

When the camera returns to the Blimp Guys, they're strafed by yet another Mc- Gwire missile.

"Hey, man, call the FAA," one of the Blimp Guys says to the other. "These guys are a threat to our airspace."

The typically light, farcical spot will carry its tone into other sports in the coming months. A NASCAR commercial already has been shot, with the Blimp Guys bummed when they find out that their airship travels at only 35 miles per hour. There are plans for a tie-in to the Bud Bowl during football season. Bowling and boxing also have been discussed.

"When we were looking for a [baseball] campaign, we were thinking, 'What would be a topic that we'd be able to talk about?'" said Bob Lachky, vice president of brand management for Anheuser-Busch Cos. "There's no better vignette than this. Is it opportunistic? I don't know. I hope it's not perceived that way. It's just a logical thing for us to do."

Because the commercial has been in the works for months, the brewery couldn't be certain that McGwire would be stalking the record, as he has. So the plan was to focus on the increase in home runs throughout baseball. McGwire ended up as the poster child primarily because the brewery is based in St. Louis, Lachky said.

That tie turned Anheuser-Busch into an unlikely beneficiary. McGwire has shied away from promoting the quest in corporate circles but gave these spots his blessing "because we have a good relationship and because he liked the campaign," Lachky said.

"This whole [home run] story is unbelievable." Lachky said. "We've been there through the lean years with baseball. So it's nice to turn around and be a part of this."

The initial plan for the campaign, which was created by DDB Needham in Chicago, was for separately themed spots dedicated to each sport on which the brewery wanted to focus. The first two produced were for bowling and boxing.

"They were two completely different concepts," Lachky said. "That made us back up and take another look. We wanted to find a way to make it look like one voice, rather than fragmented messages."

In April, Anheuser-Busch asked the agency to find a theme that could cross from one sport to another. After the brewery gave thumbs down to an outlandish character that DDB suggested, the Blimp Guys were born.

"Even if there weren't a home run chase, we'd be doing something with baseball in a campaign right now," Lachky said. "We're just fortunate that we were able to focus on something that people are excited about, and still tie in the brand prominently."

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