The low-carb craze continues to breathe new life into the long-stagnant beer marketplace, which last year invested $454.8 million in network TV advertising, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Those who watch the sector affirm that network TV will continue to be the favored marketing tool of beer makers heading into the fall TV season, and new low-carb product from Anheuser-Busch, Coors Brewing, Labatt USA and Miller Brewing is expected to continue to dominate much of that airtime. (Little wonder, since light-beer sales make up an estimated half of the $60 billion-plus domestic beer market.)
A-B is expected to spend $100 million this year to market Michelob Ultra alone, while Coors is expected to spend tens of millions on the soon-to-be-launched Aspen Edge. This, as industry stalwarts like Miller Brewing's Miller Lite and A-B's Bud Light tout their low-carb bona fides in TV spots. Low-carb is where it's at in the beer business, confirms Ben Steinman, editor of the industry newsletter Beer Marketer's Insights. Sales of Miller Lite, he says, are growing at a double-digit clip, in great part because of its new low-carb positioning.
The biggest spender so far this year on network prime time is A-B's Budweiser and Bud Light brands; the company laid out $24 million through February to promote those products, according to Nielsen. While network spending is expected to be strong this year, don't look for the hot low-carb trend to translate into marked spending increases in the sector, warns Eric Blankfein, vp/director of media planning for Horizon Media in New York: "Network will continue to take the lion's share again, but when you talk about light and ultra and low-carb, it's not necessarily incremental to spending. We will likely see a rotation, as opposed to more money going into the marketplace. You won't see spending double because of this new category."
It's not all about low-carb. Other niche beer categories expected to continue to feed network coffers include ice beers (Bud Ice, Labatt Ice) and so-called "malternatives." A-B is using network to promote its new Bacardi Silver Limón, the latest in its family of flavored malt beverages. Meanwhile, Miller is using network for its current "Anthem" campaign, promoting its Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft brands.
Humor, as always, continues to distinguish network TV beer spots. A-B's current Bud Light campaign, poking fun at "over-the-top" carb counters, created by DDB Worldwide in Chicago, is just one example. The brand also airs "Institute Treadmill" and "Institute Toe Flex," created by Downtown Partners DDB in Toronto, to parody the low-carb phenomenon.
While beer makers remain devoted to network, the tone of their ads could be changing. A-B president August A. Busch IV told attendees at this month's American Association of Advertising Agencies gathering in Miami that, following the outcry over Janet Jackson's Super Bowl performance and less-than-glowing reviews of some of the racier beer spots during the telecast, his company was reevaluating its creative.
Observers predict the powerful mix of network TV and sports will continue to be a winning formula for beer makers looking to reach their core male market. As part of the current campaign "Miller . . . Good Call," Miller chose to launch its presidential-campaign parody "President of Beers" spot, created by Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Ore., during this month's NCAA Final Four tournament broadcast on CBS.—Tony Case
Tony Case is a contributing editor to Mediaweek.
Todd Gordon, senior vp/manager of national broadcast at MediaCom, says the low-carb phenomenon "proves that brand extensions like that can really work and even be a phenomenal success." He thinks the trend "will inspire continuing innovation in the category. I think probably all the marketers in the category will look at their brands and say, maybe we can revitalize them in some way with a brand extension, or they'll find a different niche of the marketplace they can market to. There aren't a lot of successful new brands in the category recently."
Gordon says in launching new brands like low-carb alternatives, beer makers will continue to find network prime time "most powerful." It's not a surprise to see beer makers buying time during male-skewing entertainment and sports programming—but the exec says expect the brewers to target female viewers more heavily amid this latest trend. "The low-carb message is appealing to both men and women," he explains.
Beer makers' core target of young men, as a captive audience, remains as elusive as ever, Gordon notes. So, brewers have chased that consumer into cable and elsewhere. Still, "[network] TV overwhelmingly dominates," he says. "Nothing else comes close. For the foreseeable future, it will be the core media choice" of beer makers.—T.C.