Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Anheuser-Busch Pushes the Big Beers for the Super Bowl

THE biggest advertiser on the Super Bowl — the most important day on the calendar for advertising as well as football — intends a back-to-basics approach, concentrating on its two top brands in humorous commercials that take a cheery, feel-good tack.

Anheuser-Busch, which buys more commercial time each year in the Super Bowl than any other marketer, is likely to run seven spots in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, all of them for Budweiser or Bud Light. The spots being considered for the game would last an aggregate of four minutes: one is 60 seconds and the rest are 30 seconds each.

There will also be a so-called secret spot, not appearing during the Super Bowl, that owners of mobile devices like cellphones will be able to watch when the game ends as part of a promotion.

Anheuser-Busch executives are considering about a dozen commercials for the four minutes of time the company bought. They typically tinker with the lineup until shortly before the game. Sometimes, they change their minds as late as Sunday morning.

“You know how hard it is to impress the 21-to-27-year-old consumer today?” said Robert C. Lachky, executive vice president for global industry and creative development at Anheuser-Busch, part of the Anheuser-Busch Companies.

“Not only are they inundated with messages,” he added, “they’re also creating ads themselves.”

After the game, the TV commercials will persist on nearly 20 Web sites. That digital outreach by Anheuser-Busch has grown in tandem with the increasing availability of broadband Internet connections, which make it easier to watch video clips on home computers.

Last year, the company estimates, its Super Bowl XLI commercials were viewed online more than 30 million times — with 87 percent of the volume in the seven days after the game.

Some of the Web sites where the commercials can be watched, like budbowl.com, are sponsored by Anheuser-Busch. The others will include AOL, ESPN, FunnyorDie, iFilm, MSN, MySpace, USA Today, Veryfunnyads, Yahoo and YouTube.

Fox Broadcasting, which will carry Super Bowl XLII, is charging an estimated average of $2.7 million for each 30-second commercial in the game. The audience in the United States for the telecast by Fox, part of the News Corporation, is expected to exceed 90 million viewers.

As the leading Super Bowl advertiser and a stalwart sponsor of TV sports, Anheuser-Busch pays less than the average rate. The company does, however, pay extra fees each year to be the only beer marketer to run spots in the game, shutting out rivals like Molson Coors and SABMiller.

Anheuser-Busch’s deals for exclusivity in the beer category with the networks that currently share the rights to broadcast the Super Bowl — CBS, Fox and NBC — extend through 2012.

The decision to promote only Budweiser and Bud Light would represent a change in strategy. In recent Super Bowls, Anheuser-Busch also ran commercials for smaller brands like Budweiser Select, Michelob Amber Bock and Michelob Ultra Amber; spots called “Here’s to beer,” which celebrated beer as an alternative to other alcoholic beverages; and commercials that encouraged driving responsibly.

“We have to go to the mother lode,” said Mr. Lachky. “If you focus on your core brands, the rest of the portfolio will benefit.”

The expected narrowing of pitches to the top two brews reflects a shift in corporate strategy at Anheuser-Busch for 2008 to devote more time and treasure to its major products, which include the Michelob line in addition to Bud Light and Budweiser.

Mr. Lachky shared his thoughts about his Super Bowl plans in meetings with reporters on Friday. Anheuser-Busch and its agencies typically spend several months before each Super Bowl developing, producing, testing and refining the commercials.

All that work usually pays off. For the last nine years, a spot for an Anheuser-Busch beer has finished first in perhaps the most closely-watched gauge of Super Bowl commercial popularity, the annual Ad Meter poll conducted by USA Today.

“When your work bubbles up to the top in likability, you know you’re connecting with customers,” Mr. Lachky said.

More important, he added, are goals like increasing sales and market share; “making our selling system excited,” a reference to the more than 700 wholesalers of Anheuser-Busch products; and “making consumers feel we are the leader in the category.”

Anheuser-Busch pays a high price for its hegemony. As the biggest Super Bowl advertiser from 1988 through 2007, the company spent $274.2 million, according to data from TNS Media Intelligence, a unit of Taylor Nelson Sofres.

That was 42.2 percent more than the spending by the No. 2 Super Bowl advertiser in those years, PepsiCo, which according to the data spent $192.8 million. (In the years that Anheuser-Busch does not win the USA Today poll, a PepsiCo brand usually does.)

In 2007, TNS reported, Anheuser-Busch spent almost $23.9 million for its Super Bowl spots and PepsiCo spent $11.9 million. The comparisons for 2006 were $22.5 million and $10 million, respectively.

The commercials under consideration for the Super Bowl that Mr. Lachky showed reporters were almost all upbeat and light-hearted, in marked contrast to a skein of spots that Anheuser-Busch and other advertisers ran in the game last year. Those commercials became notorious for their cartoonish violence, which many viewers deemed callous.

For instance, in a 2007 commercial for Bud Light, one man beat another at a game of rock, paper, scissors by throwing a rock at his opponent’s head. In a second Bud Light spot, slapping faces replaced bumping fists as a hip way to express affection.

The sight gags in the spots under consideration for Feb. 3 are kinder if not gentler, perhaps because some are aimed at women. For example, several would-be commercials offer exaggerated benefits for drinking Bud Light like “the ability to breathe fire,” “X-ray vision” and “the ability to talk to animals.”

The spots were created by the Chicago office of DDB Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group.

Other potential spots for Bud Light by DDB Chicago present offbeat versions of prehistoric life, a wine-and-cheese party and home improvement.

Another possible Bud Light commercial is a sequel to a spot last year featuring the comedian Carlos Mencia as an unlikely English teacher helping immigrants learn to order beer. The new spot shows him teaching the same students how to talk to American women. Both commercials were created by LatinWorks in Austin, Tex.

The 60-second commercial under consideration for the game, a Budweiser spot by DDB Chicago, revives characters that have proved popular in previous Super Bowls: the Clydesdales and their Dalmatian companion. The commercial invokes a familiar fight film to provide a fanciful look at how one horse seeks to be selected to pull the Bud beer wagon.

Among other brands planning spots in Super Bowl XLII are Audi, Bridgestone, CareerBuilder, Cars.com, Coca-Cola Classic, FedEx, Garmin, Gatorade G2, GoDaddy, Hyundai, Pepsi-Cola, Planters, Salesgenie, Sunsilk, Tide to Go, Toyota, Under Armour and Victoria’s Secret.

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