Super Bowl

Anheuser-Busch Cuts Down on Super Bowl 57 Buys With Just 3 Minutes of Air Time

Budweiser goes regional, while a Bud Light relaunch hints at long-term sports marketing strategy

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There aren’t vendors in the streets of Buffalo, N.Y., selling sunscreen during massive lake-effect snowstorms. So why does the world’s largest beer company spend millions on Super Bowl ads during the driest months in the United States?

This year, Anheuser-Busch declined the alcohol category exclusivity agreement it’s held with broadcasters for each Super Bowl since 1989. That allowed competitors including Molson Coors, Diageo and Rémy Cointreau to take the field during the Big Game.

It also gave AB the opportunity to reconsider its Super Bowl spending habits and refocus its sports marketing calendar. This year, the company has purchased 3 minutes of national broadcast time for just three brands—Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Busch Light—while buying just 30 seconds of regional ad time for Budweiser. That’s down from 4 minutes of Big Game airtime in both 2021 and 2022.

“There is no change in our strategy, but the way we operate that strategy has evolved,” said Benoit Garbe, Anheuser-Busch’s CMO. “It’s far more deliberate, far more focused, really making sure that our dollar works harder for us as a business.”

If people don’t start drinking hard seltzer in large quantities until May or June, Garbe said there’s no point in his company spending more than $6 million advertising it in February. And if Anheuser-Busch is going to spend that big on Bud Light and Michelob Ultra during months when its beer production (and U.S. beer consumption) are down, it’s going to make sure that those big ads are coordinated with wholesalers, retailers, digital platforms, ecommerce and other sports marketing campaigns throughout the year to make the most impact for the money.

Reining in the Clydesdales

In 1988, Budweiser sold 50 million barrels and accounted for roughly 25% of all beer sold in the United States. By the start of the pandemic in 2020, those sales had fallen by 80%, and its 5% share of the beer market lagged behind Anheuser-Busch’s own Bud Light and Michelob Ultra, as well as Molson Coors’ Coors Light and Miller Lite—with Constellation Brands’ Modelo Especial gaining ground quickly.

Garbe acknowledged that Anheuser-Busch is now focused on its premium and super premium categories, based on consumer spending patterns. During the Super Bowl 57 broadcast, Budweiser’s commercials—produced by agency partner FCB New York and directed by Lalou Dammond and Joaquin Baca-Asay—will air only in its strongest U.S. sales markets, with most of the brand’s push coming online through social media and video channels.

“We want Budweiser to be part of the Super Bowl because Budweiser is an icon of the Super Bowl,” Garbe said. “But, really, what we’re doing this year is rethinking what Budweiser is, and how we reconnect with a younger and multicultural consumer.”

Budweiser’s Super Bowl 57 ads will kick off an equity campaign that “champions the American spirit in every one of us,” but won’t see its strongest campaigns and presence until summer—when Budweiser has its strongest sales. That summer campaign also won’t feature the NFL, but Anheuser-Busch’s other partners in Major League Baseball.

At least Budweiser made the cut this year. Of the six brands that Anheuser-Busch showcased during Super Bowl 56, four didn’t return for this year’s game. While seasonal tastes may explain the absence of Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer and Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda—and last year’s launch of Bud Light Next didn’t warrant a follow-up—the absence of Cutwater Spirits when Anheuser-Busch is sharing the Super Bowl stage with multiple spirits brands made a statement.

Garbe said it is more important for Anheuser-Busch to build brand awareness for Cutwater through repeated impressions and multiple weeks on air, which is why campaigns for that brand won’t start until March or April.

“Seeing spirits and competition entering the Super Bowl, we embrace it because it drives a category forward,” he said. “Cutwater is absolutely a critical opportunity for us as a business; equally, we want to make sure that we don’t spend all the money in the Super Bowl and then dry out the money.”

Year-round Super Bowl

In some ways, Anheuser-Busch’s Super Bowl lineup will look familiar this year. The company and agency partners Wieden+Kennedy brought back director Rachel Morrison for another cinema-driven Michelob Ultra ad similar to last year’s Big Lebowski-themed spot. Michelob Ultra sales have doubled within the last five years, and Garbe credits the Super Bowl with at least some of that success. 

Busch Light, which Garbe described as “a regional, local Midwestern brand” that has seen double-digit growth each year since 2017, gets a big push this year with a spot from The Martin Agency and director Kitao Sakurai. Tethering the brand to hunting, fishing, farming and other outdoor pursuits, the spot pushes a value-priced beer and simple messaging for potentially tough times ahead.

“We’re keeping our eyes on the economy and what’s happening today due to inflation and potential recession,” Garbe said. “We know beer is extremely resilient in times of hardship, and Busch Light is a value brand, but it’s a brand in a nonbranded price-led segment.”

But Anheuser-Busch’s official NFL beer partner and No. 1 U.S. brand, Bud Light, provides a template for how Super Bowl marketing might be supported in the future. Considered a relaunch of the Bud Light brand—with a new tag touting “enjoyment made easy”—the campaign will kick off with a Super Bowl spot created by agency partner Anomaly and directed by Trey Edward Shults.

Instead of centering on the Super Bowl, however, it’ll be spread out over 52 weeks and include TV spots, digital assets and even company training materials. It’ll still involve the NFL later this year, but the Bud Light campaign will also spread across its partnerships with U.S. Soccer and Top Rank Boxing

“Great brands have one foot in the past and one foot in the future,” Garbe said. “They have very clear brand DNA, but keep it current and relevant to this world.”

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