A-B Adds a Dancer to Its Super Bowl Shuffle

Modernista! asked for Bud ideas; rest of roster in production frenzy.

Anheuser-Busch’s roster shops are used to looking over their shoulders. The St. Louis brewer, which has a habit of pitting its agencies against each other for assignments, has invited a new player in to feed its hunger for the next big idea—and big hits for the Super Bowl.

A-B has asked independent Modernista! in Boston to pitch work for Budweiser’s “True” campaign, said Bob Lachky, the client’s vp of brand management. Lachky said A-B contacted the shop late this summer, in part because executives knew agency principal Gary Koepke from his time as a creative director at former A-B shop Heater Advertising in Boston.

Sources said Modernista! pitched ideas this month and is expected to produce at least one spot, which would become a de facto Super Bowl contender along with the ads from the other roster shops. Agency president Clift Jones would say only, “We’re in the middle of a bunch of stuff.”

Lachky said Modernista! was brought in as another “resource” to develop lifestyle ideas under the “True” rubric “along the lines of what DDB’s doing.”

“I love their Hummer work. They’re our kind of guys,” Lachky said.

The shop joins Omnicom Group’s DDB Chicago and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco on “True,” which Lachky said will continue its strategy of offering “insights into the contemporary beer drinker’s life,” with humor that is sophisticated and gender inclusive.

A-B’s shops, particularly DDB and Goodby, are in production on numerous spots (DDB is said to be working on 25 itself) to satisfy the client’s $240 million media budget for Bud and Bud Light alone. Fall/winter sports events, particularly the NFL playoffs and college bowl games, eat up plenty of work; the spots the brewer likes best are saved for the Super Bowl. “The irony is that if A-B doesn’t like them, they go on air right away,” one source said.

The brewer, which has bought 10 30-second slots for the Feb. 1 game at the going rate of $2 million-plus per unit, has started to sort through work from all of its agencies but does not set its lineup until a week or two before the event. Getting its shops scrambling like this in the months leading up to the game is nothing new for the brewer. A-B “likes to keep its agencies on their toes,” said one executive. Or, as Mark Rodman, a consultant with Beverage Distribution Specialists in Swampscott, Mass., bluntly put it, “A-B plays its agencies like a harp.”

New “True” spots from DDB featuring the narcissistic football player “Leon” and an overly truthful referee are in the works and will be considered for the Super Bowl, Lachky said. For Bud Light, DDB is shooting new spots with Cedric the Entertainer and more ads in the “Real men of genius” campaign, which made its U.S. TV debut last week.

Sources said DDB is under increasing pressure to develop new ideas on Bud Light as the brand’s sales, once making double-digit gains, have slowed. Lachky denied that, admitting that sales have “slowed down as the industry has” but insisting A-B is satisfied with the strategy on the brand and the work it is getting from its shops.

Bud Light is still the nation’s top-selling beer, with more than 15 percent of the market, but sales were up just 5 percent for the 13-week period ending Sept. 7, which covers the key summer beer-selling season, according to Information Resources Inc. For the year ending Sept. 7, Bud Light was up 7 percent.

Miller Lite was up 2.3 percent for the 13 weeks ending Sept. 7, but flat for the year.

Bud Light sales have been cannibalized by the success of A-B’s own “low-carb” Michelob Ultra, which has grabbed a 1.5 percent share of the market in its first year, Lachky said. Miller has jumped on the low-carb craze with ads from WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather touting Miller Lite as “the original low-carb beer.”

Lachky said the strategy for Bud Light—combining “fun and social” situations with the lengths drinkers will go to get the beer—is not changing and denied that DDB has been asked to respond to Miller Lite’s tactics. “There’s no need to react when you’ve got the brand everybody is shooting for, which is Michelob Ultra,” he said.

DDB handles advertising for Michelob Ultra under the tagline, “Lose the carbs, not the taste.” A-B spent $20 million on the brand through August of this year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. All of Michelob’s TV spots in 2004 will support Ultra, Lachky said.

DDB continues to share Bud Light with Downtown Partners DDB in Toronto and independent Fusion Idea Lab in Chicago. The latter two both had Bud Light spots in the 2003 Super Bowl and are pitching ideas for the upcoming game, Lachky said.

Goodby will continue to focus on Bud, Lachky said. The agency earlier this month shot a spot in St. Louis using the Clydesdales.

Interpublic Group’s Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston has also presented a new Clydesdales spot for Bud; like the ad it did for the last Super Bowl, this one shows the horses playing football.

Hill, Holliday, which broke into the A-B lineup thanks to producer Brian Sweeney’s previous relationship with the brewer (he worked at DDB in the 1990s), also had a Clydesales spot in the 2002 game.