Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 23 No. 13
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

A-B InBev planning massive media blitz, in-stadium signage for Bud Light Seltzer

Is a Super Bowl spot fizzing up in the future for the imminent introduction of Bud Light (hard) Seltzer? With Anheuser-Busch InBev stockpiling the rest of its top-shelf sports armada for the Q1 launch of the brand extension, it sure looks that way. The brewer had a record five-and-a-half minutes of commercial time in last year’s game.

Asked about the media plan supporting the Bud Light Seltzer launch in January, A-B InBev U.S. sports head Nick Kelly would only say there “will be a lot.” Otherwise, if you watch sports in the first quarter of next year, you’ll witness Bud Light Seltzer usurp Bud Light’s and Budweiser’s long-established ubiquity at pro sports venues.

Bud Light Seltzer launches in January with four flavors.
Photo: courtesy of a-b inbev
Bud Light Seltzer launches in January with four flavors.
Photo: courtesy of a-b inbev
Bud Light Seltzer launches in January with four flavors.
Photo: courtesy of a-b inbev

“We’re flipping every switch we have to give Bud Light Seltzer the runway it needs to build awareness fast,” said Kelly. “We will leverage all our assets from January into April, including NBA, NHL and MLB. Every piece of TV-visible signage, including outfield wall signs, will be for Bud Light Seltzer.” Out-of-home advertising for Bud Light Seltzer will also be plentiful in and around Miami during the upcoming Super Bowl Week, and during the NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago.

For years, Bud Light has been the top-selling beer for America’s biggest brewery. If nothing else, marshaling its biggest sports assets behind Bud Light Seltzer is indicative that A-B is convinced that hard seltzer will be as much of a category game changer as light beer has been since its widespread U.S. introduction 50 years ago. The top-selling three U.S. brews are all light beers (Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite). 

Industry chatter has A-B InBev putting $100 million in marketing behind the launch of Bud Light Seltzer, which will come in four flavors: lemon lime, strawberry, mango and black cherry.

Photo: courtesy of a-b inbev
Photo: courtesy of a-b inbev
Photo: courtesy of a-b inbev

In the skyrocketing hard-seltzer category, A-B InBev’s brands are Bon & Viv and Natural Light. Still, it’s in the unfamiliar position of being third in the market, behind Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw and Boston Beer’s Truly brand. With domestic sales of hard seltzer already bubbling up to a billion dollars this year and forecast to double in 2020, A-B InBev is betting that Bud Light’s well-established brand equity, along with a massive marketing spend, will be enough to close the market-share gap.

It also means sports properties will have to choose between the old model — ceding all alcoholic beverage rights to one brand — or a hybrid/multi-brand model where rights will be split across craft, domestic and foreign beers, along with spirits. “Where it matters, we’ll look for total alcohol rights,’’ said Kelly. “Of course, we’ll make those decisions property by property, but we’re heading into a really gray area. We might feel infringed when a property has a separate [hard] seltzer deal, but so could a spirits brand, because hard seltzer, to a lot of people’s eyes, competes with vodka and soda.”

It’s a big change for A-B InBev marketing behind hard seltzer. Before now, Bon & Viv had leveraged some NFL rights, along with the original Bud Light. Natural Light hard seltzer recently signed a league sponsorship with the Big 12 conference.

MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: When unveiled, every sports sponsorship is lauded as “the perfect match.” Hyperbolic quotes with the words “pleased” in them usually appear in abundance. Nonetheless, at the risk of a court-martial, we believe that insurer USAA’s 10-year-old presenting sponsorship of the Army-Navy Game is the best sponsor coupling we’ve covered since Passion Growers signed on as the Rose Bowl’s first official rose in 2010. That doesn’t mean we weren’t curious as to exactly what USAA gets out of its deal.

USAA’s vice president of brand management, Eric Engquist — a West Point graduate who recalls watching Army-Navy games from posts in Iraq, Korea, and Kosovo — said the sponsorship, which runs through 2025, has more recently been about increasing engagement in the game through expanded social and digital touch points. With 55 million social and digital interactions around the game last year, USAA appears to have checked that box, and four of the 10 most-watched games have occurred over the past five years, so something is working there as well.

As presenting sponsor of the CBS telecast, USAA gets eight spots. Dedicated creative from an in-house agency helps cut through an especially noisy and cluttered insurance market.

Chief among KPIs, Engquist said, are assessments of postgame sponsorship awareness, purchase consideration and brand opinion. Recently, he said, those have all been tracking positively. “This is a platform from which we can absolutely stand alone authentically,’’ he said. “We just have to take advantage of that.”

Just outside Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, where this year’s game will take place on Dec. 14, USAA will have its largest activation space yet, an area in which fans can compete in faux football drills, which can then be shared socially. Continuing a mission of augmenting its presence around the game, USAA has built up its own version of a “radio row,” wherein around 30 outlets (compare that to the Super Bowl Radio Row’s 100 or so) will host the likes of Roger Staubach, who won the Heisman as Navy’s quarterback in 1963, and Gen. Pete Dawkins, the 1958 Heisman Trophy winner from Army. Endeavor’s 160over90 agency is USAA’s sponsorship shop.


Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.