Clock Ticking Fast on Bud Light Review

With the Super Bowl looming, A-B hasn’t yet found the agency for its new direction

New Anheuser-Busch U.S. marketing chief Paul Chibe entered Bud Light’s creative review with one important goal: find an agency that can halt—and then reverse—the market share decline of A-B InBev’s largest brand.

So far, though, that hasn’t happened. Now, with the Super Bowl just three months away, Chibe may just have to settle for finding a few funny executions in time for the big game. Even doing that becomes more difficult with each passing week. 

The delay in finding an agency is not for lack of effort on Bud Light’s part. The problem may be the new direction Chibe wants.

Bud Light remains the top selling beer in the U.S., but its market share has dropped a bit in the past few years. And its advertising—backed by more than $300 million in media spending last year—has been stuck in a rut of slapstick humor aimed at fratboy types. Chibe still wants a humorous approach for the next campaign, but he’d like something more highbrow, like ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” campaign, to broaden the appeal of the advertising. But he may not have found what he’s looking for just yet. Officially, however, A-B maintains that both the review and Super Bowl creative development are “on track.”

When the search began, Chibe contacted more than a half-dozen agencies, including mcgarrybowen, Droga5, and incumbents DDB and Cannonball. His wish list also included former Miller agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky as well as BBDO and Translation—shops he knew well from his previous job at Wrigley.

BBDO declined to participate, however, because of a conflict with its global Guinness account, and Crispin fell out of contention after presenting ideas around the theme “Beer is good.” Three weeks ago, DDB, the brand’s agency since its birth 30 years ago, also was eliminated. The brewer apparently was not enchanted with the “Bud Light just right” campaign that DDB pitched.

DDB had put on a significant defense, pooling talent from multiple offices in an effort to beat the low odds incumbents face in reviews like this. Instead, the shop saw a long relationship with A-B that spanned multiple brands come to an end. Clearly, it’s a new era at the world’s largest brewer, three years after Belgium’s InBev assumed control of America’s A-B. A family-run company once known for loyalty, generosity, and funny ads is now in the hands of a corporation that embraces zero-based budgeting, takes longer to pay agencies, and demands a quick return on its investment.

Another round of agency presentations (from Cannonball, Translation, Droga5, and mcgarrybowen) took place three weeks ago before a stone-faced trio of executives that included Chibe, participants told Adweek.