SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Looking for a brand that has done it right for a long time? Gimme a Light

By the time you read this, you and about 90 million other Americans watching the Super Bowl will probably have met that Cedric guy in the newest Bud Light commercial. But today's column really isn't about the newest commercial. It's about how a company can create a brand dynasty anchored by consistently excellent advertising, yielding great results over a sustained period.

Consistency and process are hallmarks of Anheuser-Busch's approach. I began my career working on Anheuser-Busch advertising (on the brief but groundbreaking "Night Belongs to Michelob" campaign) years ago at then DDB-Needham/Chicago. That was during the late '80s, but many of the same people who worked on Anheuser-Busch's advertising then still help lead it today.

The team, now anchored by August Busch IV, who was just entering the business back then, includes Bob Lachky, who was DDB's account supervisor on the Bud Light business and is now Anheuser-Busch's VP of brand management. DDB Chicago is agency of record now as it was then. Bob Scarpelli, who now leads all creative at DDB USA, has worked on the brand since the early days. There has been client and agency stability.

Anheuser-Busch also has been loyal to people who have contributed along the way — giving opportunities to agencies formed by people who left Anheuser-Busch core agencies — such as Fusion Idea Lab (the "I Love You, Man" guys) and Leap Partnership (the "Yes, I Am" guys). This kind of process keeps fresh ideas coming.

Anheuser-Busch ads have been unparalleled in delivering copy lines that become part of their consumers "bar talk" and pop culture conversation pieces. "Yes, I Am" and "I Love You, Man" rival the most-talked about hook lines ever. (And, of course, Bud's "Whassup" may be the Millennial Granddaddy, the standard by which these kinds of things are measured.)

A spot from the last quarter of 2000 called "Towel" exemplifies the approach of the current crop of Bud Light TV commercials. In the spot, a towel-clad guy peering outside the door of his hotel room catches sight of an ice bucket filled with Bud Light several rooms down. Irresistibly, he starts toward the cold beer and continues undeterred after his door closes and locks, catching his towel in the process.

At the moment of his naked heist, the beer-owner's door swings open and right from The Graduate on Acid central casting steps a husky, leopard-skin robed Mrs. Robinson, who takes one look at our naked hero and declares lasciviously: "Happy Birthday to Me." After the obligatory product shot and "Make it a Bud Light" tag line copy, he emerges wearing the robe and nonchalantly walking back to his room past an appalled bellman.

Where so many ideas lose the relevance of their story line, the Bud Light spots succeed because the stories and characters are built organically to deliver the relevant message that guys will do anything to get their Bud Light.

The spot was created by Fusion Idea Lab, an agency created by veterans of the campaign from DDB Chicago.

The results of the campaign have been staggering. Bud Light has experienced volume growth higher than its strong main competitors, Miller Lite and Coors Light, for several years, and is now the No. 1 light beer in the country, an honor held by Miller Lite, which essentially invented the category, for almost 25 years.

Like sports dynasties, brand dynasties are more difficult to build and sustain than ever before. The achievements and process of Anheuser-Busch on its Bud Light brand can be instructive to marketers and sports teams alike.

Budlight       
Client: Anheuser-Busch Cos., St. Louis
  Group vice president, marketing and
wholesale operations:
August Busch IV
Vice president, brand management:
Bob Lachky
Director, Bud Light marketing: Andy Goeler
Agency of record: DDB Chicago
Creative director: John Immesoti
Agency: "Towel," Fusion Idea Lab, Chicago
Creative directors: Matt Brennock,
Mike Oberman
Director: Dave Merhar

 

James H. Harris (jim@thoughtstep.com) is CEO of the strategic marketing consultancy ThoughtStep Inc.

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