BEER WARS ARE BACK

Dear Client:

The Beer Wars are back, baby. I haven’t been this excited since they changed my gout medicine five years ago. Even Dos Equis is emerging from the shadows and spitting shade. I love it. A-B got us all crazy, and I like it like that (Pepsi ad reference).

Usually it’s the smaller company that picks the fight — the so-called “able challenger” theory that Miller chief Norman Adami executed with some success in 2005.

Nary have we seen a dominate brewer cast the first stone. It’s very exciting, and whatever happens, it has ignited both bases in the distributor tier, (with longtime friends from both sides already calling me a traitor, which means I’m doing my job perfectly).

NOTE TO GREENHORNS: For you younger readers, this is very exciting indeed. Since about 2009 we’ve been steeped into a torpor — a semi-sleep — as all the major brewers raised prices and cut costs to grow. But both of those strategies are not as effective today, so we’re getting back to scrappy marketing. Now we’re selling beer.

So here’s how it went down. We first knew something was ahoo when A-B didn’t preview its Bud Light Super Bowl ads — usually the showcase of the show — to distributors at SAMCOM last week nor to the trade press thereafter, as is their usual habit.

But nothing was customary this year with A-B’s Super Bowl spots, as we were soon to find out.

ED. NOTE: Some background so you realize how groundbreaking this is. One of the first rules they teach you in marketing school is you never, ever, under any circumstances, name your competitors when they are smaller than you. Second, if you do, don’t disparage them because it makes you appear to be a bully. And third, never ever use old washed up celebrities to sell to younger people.

Anheuser-Busch threw all of those conventions out the window, and they did it on the world’s largest marketing stage last night.

Back to Bud Light. After we couldn’t preview the ads, we started seeing Bud Light packaging touting its ingredients: Hops, barley, water, and rice. With additional graphics indicating there were no preservatives, no corn syrup, and no artificial flavors.

Wait? No corn syrup? Why would they put that on their packaging out of left field? That is what lead us to their BL Super Bowl ads were going to target corn-based beers like Miller Lite and Coors Light. So we tweeted it, which naturally got harsh reactions from both sides, and the usual insane reactions from the crazies of beertwitter.

As we predicted on Saturday, A-B came out swinging, and yes they named both Miller Lite and Coors Light in the ads. And the first was played in the first quarter. As my oldest son texted me within seconds of the ad playing: “Man, that ad was savage.” Gloves are off.

To say this was a big risk was an understatement. It costs around $175,000 a second for the Super Bowl ads played yesterday on CBS, not counting ad production costs. In just over a decade, the price of the average Super Bowl ad has nearly doubled, as the average 30-second ad cost $2.69 million in 2008, according to Nielsen Media Research.

A-B purchased a record 6 and a half minutes of airtime for 7 of its brands: Bud Light, Budweiser, Budweiser Reserve Copper Lager, Michelob ULTRA, Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold, Stella Artois (my personal favorite ads) and Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer. A record 7 brands (remember when it was just Bud and Bud Light? Not that long ago). Nobody else promoted as many brands than A-B last night, nor in Super Bowl history.

A-B’s price tag? Around $32 – 35 million, we hear. Perhaps, even more with Jim Nantz saying “Here’s a look from our Bud Light Sky Cam” in every quarter. So yeah, a big bet. In fact, we estimate it’s the biggest bet any CPG company has ever made, no company has promoted so many brands in one Super Bowl. Was it worth it? Read on.

BUD LIGHT THROWING SHADE LIKE A 167 YEAR OLD MISSOURI CYPRESS

As you probably know by now: Bud Light went directly after Miller Lite and Coors Light in its Super Bowl spots, drilling them for brewing with corn syrup and hop extract.

In the most overt of this messaging, a spot called “Special Delivery” ends with the Coors Light castle’s king, in receipt of a giant barrel of corn syrup that had been mistakenly delivered to the Bud Light kingdom, yelling: “TO BE CLEAR, WE BREW COORS LIGHT WITH CORN SYRUP!”

A-B aired two more 15-second Bud Light spots during the game on top of that. There was “Two Medieval Barbers”, which went after Coors Light’s ingredients. Then Bud Light attacked Miller Lite with “Trojan Horse Occupants.” And there were several call-outs as they cut back to the game: “Bud Light, brewed with no corn syrup.”

IS IT FAIR? Well, all is fair in love and war, and this is war. A-B knew it could leverage it’s huge audience without the majority of consumers checking the fine print. High fructose corn syrup, of course, has been widely publicized as an evil ingredient in most products. I’m sure A-B tested for that. But no MillerCoors products are brewed with HFCS.

Many beer brands brew with regular corn syrup, which includes ABI’s second largest brand outside the U.S., Corona. But not sure the average consumer gets the distinction. And of course, in brewing, the vast majority of the corn syrup is fermented anyway into ethanol and carbon dioxide, just as any starch, including rice. But that is lost on the majority of the public.

WAR STARTS IN TWITTERVERSE AND BEYOND. MillerCoors quickly responded via Twitter: “At MillerCoors, we’re proud of our high-quality, great-tasting beers. We’re also proud that none of our products include any high fructose corn syrup, while a number of Anheuser-Busch products do. And Miller Lite has fewer calories, fewer carbs and more taste than Bud Light.”

MillerCoors spokesman told me privately that they were actually excited that A-B opened the door to the conversation. “I don’t know the last time our Twitter had something that played so well,” they said.

MILLERCOORS’ FIRST SUPER BOWL AD. Later MillerCoors tweeted: “Hey Bud Light, thanks for including us in our first Super Bowl ad in over 20 years. You forgot two things though… we have more taste and half the carbs! #itsmillertime”

And MillerCoors Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer Pete Marino told BBD: “This is a desperate move by the dominant industry leader who clearly wants to divert away from the fact that we have more taste than Bud Light. As any brewer knows, we use corn as a fermentation aid and they use rice. … They can spend all they want, we have nothing to hide because Miller Lite simply has more taste than Bud Light.”

BUD LIGHT CHIEF SPEAKS. So where did this new, in-yo-competitor’s-face direction from A-B come from? Was it wholesalers, we asked?

“It came from consumers,” Bud Light chief Andy Goeler told BBD. “Today consumers expect transparency” they want to know the ingredients in products they’re consuming.” This is of course why they unveiled their new packaging with serving facts and ingredient labels this month.

But that was just phase 1. “This part is ‘what’s not’ in Bud Light,” which he says is just as important as what’s in it.

“We don’t put in corn syrup, artificial flavors, or preservatives” those are the three important things we want to make sure people know about.” In fact they’ve developed three icons for that messaging: One each for no corn syrup, no preservatives and no artificial flavors.

Sure, but what will the industry think of the sharper elbowed-approach?

“This is elevating beer … playing to a higher standard,” Andy says. “It’s all about transparency in the beer industry.” He thinks it’s going to have a “positive effect.”

So what’s the next phase of this campaign?

“We’ll continue to communicate transparency” what we put in the beer, and what we don’t. … In Bud Light’s way, which is ‘fun.’ So we’ll stay focused on talking about the beer moving forward.”

WHAT ABOUT THE GAME OF THRONES AD? When I saw the ad, I thought it was brilliant, because we predicted earlier this year, literally (see BBD 01-03-19), that Dilly Dilly would die. Our exact words, “We’re calling the end of Dilly Dilly this year. A-B will likely dig the grave for the catchphrase during the Super Bowl next month.” How right-on is that prediction? Well…

Now, Dilly Dilly may not be dead, we should clarify, but the Bud Light Knight is certainly dead, his head crushed in front of 200 million spectators. If Dilly Dilly isn’t dead, it should be.

Originally I thought it was a brilliant ploy by A-B to kill an already overwrought and overexposed campaign. But no, apparently it was HBO who proposed the idea of the knight bending his final knee.

A-B initially agreed, but only after awhile A-B execs got mealy mouthed about what should happen to their icon and worried about too much violence. HBO’s marketing chief Chris Spadaccini said he made it clear: “The Bud Knight had to die.” (source: WSJ). And die he did, though it was so benign folks folks in my local weren’t even sure he was actually dead. I had to refer to the WSJ and Adage.com to make sure. Once I reassured them his head was crushed, there was light applause.

So the Bud Light Knight is dead, or as dead as a fictional character made up by an advertising agency can be.

AS FOR THE OTHER SPOTS

B&V SPIKED SELTZER “THE PITCH.” The first ever FMB Super Bowl spot was the first ad of the big game. We covered our first look at the Shark Tank-esque spot here. Many asked me why they would lead with this spot, which often has the largest viewership. The thing is, it also has the largest female viewership, with females drifting off after half time faster than males.

A-B also invested in a quick little callout from commentator Jim Nantz saying “Super Bowl 53 by CBS is sponsored by Bon & Viv” coming back from the break.

STELLA ARTOIS CALLS UP A SURPRISE GUEST. We had seen a sneak peek of the Stella Artois Super Bowl ad featuring pop-culture icons Carrie Bradshaw and The Dude ditching their go-to drinks — Cosmopolitan and White Russian, respectively — in favor of a Stella Artois. But Stella added another little wrinkle for the big game bringing in Jonathan Goldsmith aka The Most Interesting Man.

“Over the last two weeks we’ve been exciting fans by recruiting two of pop culture’s most iconic characters to change up their usual beverages to a Stella Artois – all in an effort to help end the global water crisis,” said A-B’s VP, Premium & Super Premium Marketing Peter Van Overstraeten. “During the Super Bowl, one of beer’s biggest nights, we surprised viewers with a ‘twist’ on this concept and recruited another familiar face, actor Jonathan Goldsmith, who decided to ‘change up the usual’ and choose a Stella to Pour it Forward. Because no matter your previous drink of choice, switching to Stella for a good cause is a moment worth celebrating.”

DOS RESPONDS, WITH FIVE DOS’S. Here’s what Dos Equis tweeted out in response: “@StellaArtois We don’t always respond to competitors’ ads, but when we do, it’s for a good cause. We’ll donate $2 to http://water.org for every retweet up to $22,222 #PourItForwardXXDos #KeepItInteresante #SBLIII”

MICH ULTRA “ROBOTS.” You all got a first look at this one from us late last month. The ad shows while robots may be bigger, stronger, faster, and more coordinated than the human race, we still has them beat in at least one activity: relaxing with friends and drinking beer.

BUDWEISER DELIVERS ANOTHER FEEL GOOD. We brought you folks a first look at Bud’s Super Bowl spot “Wind Never Felt Better” too. This one may not have had the star power, laughs, or jabs, but was still a well-balanced ad for Bud. Clydesdales? Check. An adorable Dalmatian’s jowls flapping in the wind? Yesh. Classic American folk song (Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In the Wind) that cleverly ties in with your commitment to renewable electricity? Check.

SMOKE BREAK. But hey, it was a good game for ads, as the game was so boring people actually watched them. Even the last one. As for the Michelob Ultra Pure Gold ad…. I’ll just say I had to have a cigarette after.

A-B OPENING INNOVATION SPIGOT IN 2019

Anheuser-Busch turned up the innovation spigot big time in 2018, with much more to come in 2019, execs said at their annual SAMCOM meeting in Dallas last week. Indeed, A-B’s new products accounted for about half of all IRI-scanned innovations in 2018, with Bud Light Orange and Mich Ultra Pure Gold holding the first two spots. Expect more this year, with A-B testing ‘over 40 new concepts in local markets. And it’s looking to expand its Beyond Beer portfolio to a billion dollar business by 2027, including seltzers, canned wine (Babe), and non-alcs.

Not much was said about A-B walking back their proposed 6 cent per case freight surcharge, except with A-B chief Michel saying that he listened to wholesalers’ concerns and looks forward to putting it behind them and working together to grow sales.

Bud Light is prominently showcasing nutrition panels on their packaging, and will be doing some comparative advertising versus Miller Lite and Coors Light (see above, obvi we wrote this before the game). And look for Bud Light Lemon Tea soon (although wholesalers aren’t keen on the taste, we’ve heard).

As with our conference, lots of emphasis this year on social media marketing, including Instagram, Twitter, FB influencers. And of course, they showed all of their Super Bowl spots with the exception of Bud Light [see above], and all of the ads seemed to get wholesalers’ approval, particularly the Stella Artois ads with Jeff Bridges and Sarah Jessica Parker (and later, we learned, TMIM). Wholesalers (and BBD) got a chance to view the Bud Light spots on Sunday right before the game.

And finally, lots more showmanship this year at Samcom, with two execs taking to the stage in a Delorean and the Bud Knight making the rounds on a horse. All in, wholesalers we spoke to came away from the meeting more enthusiastic about A-B’s plans than in previous years.

BUMP SEES LOWER PRICING ON LIGHTS, BUT MORE HIGH END AND WELLNESS EXPOSURE AT RETAIL FOR SUPER BOWL

Amid the Super Bowl run-up, Bump saw some strategies emerge, to wit:

“Very low prices” on domestic lights. “Is this a sign of things to come or simply retailers doing what they’ve done each and every Super Bowl because it’s easy to do?” he asks? Probably both. Bump is also seeing lots of larger high end displays displays this year, (Boston, Mich Ultra, Corona, Modelo, local craft, seltzers, etc.). He’s also seeing side stacks “100% focused on Health & Wellness that include almost exclusively Hard Seltzers, Flavors and Mich Ultra with some Corona Premier with little price incentives for consumers to pick up. Bold move and I like it.”

But like senior vp marketing Sanjiv Gajiwala of Mike’s said last week, people are still buying double stuffed Oreos, and Bump reports “MASSIVE” cross promotion with beer and chips, dips, and other salty snacks.

Bottom line. Bump says, “my guess is that Corona Family, Hard Seltzers and Ultra ‘WIN’ the Super Bowl with maybe a local Craft brand sneaking in under the radar along the way. My how times have changed.” That’s an understatement.

Until tomorrow,

Harry, Jenn, and Jordan

“It was such a lovely day I thought it a pity to get up.”
– W. Somerset Maugham

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