A-B Expands Multicultural Outreach

CHICAGO Anheuser-Busch has created two vice presidencies to lead its multicultural marketing charge.

Johnny Furr, vp of sales development and community affairs, will oversee African-American marketing efforts, and Henry Dominguez, vp of government affairs, West region, is the new vp of Hispanic marketing.

The appointments follow last week’s promotion of Bob Lachky to the newly created post of evp of global industry development, and the naming of new product development veteran Marlene Coulis to succeed him as vp of brand management and director of global creative.

Other moves mentioned in an A-B memo include naming Keith Levy, vp of retail, and John Johnson, vp of regional sales operations, to new sales posts. Jim Schumaker, vp of creative development, and Dave English, vp of premium brands, were appointed to strategic development roles reporting to Coulis.

The changes among the executive ranks of Anheuser-Busch are perceived by the brewer’s distribution network more as tweaking the wisdom already in-house rather than a management shakeup. The newly promoted are longtime insiders.

A-B quietly alerted wholesalers about the new executive appointments through a company memo last week and used a Monday press conference to announce the launch of Tilt, a new malt beverage with caffeine, guarana and ginseng. The company did not return calls for comment.

The No. 1 brewer has had brand managers for target audiences before, but creating two vice president slots marks the departure from marketing strategy, which held that Budweiser, Bud Light and the Clydesdales have such broad appeal that by reaching everyone, A-B can appeal to specific consumer groups. That approach had frustrated African-American company managers who confided to multicultural ad agency sources that brewing executives failed to see that there is more to marketing to black consumers than just community relations.

Both African-American and Hispanic demographics are among the fastest growing consumer segments with 57 percent of African-Americans younger than 35 and the overall black population expected to increase 27 percent by 2020. Latinos of legal drinking age comprise a sizeable segment of Hispanic consumers—the median age is 25.8 years old compared with 35.5 for the U.S population—and that ethnic group is projected to grow 27 percent by 2010, per the University of Georgia’s Selig Center.

“Having vice presidents in the company cover these specific initiatives is a great step in the right direction, but it’s really not a stride, and I think there is a lot of work they are going to have to do,” said Bob McNeil Jr., founder and president of Images USA, an independent Atlanta shop whose roster includes McDonald’s, Pepsi, Wachovia, Bermuda Ministry of Tourism, Home Depot and Cox Communications.

A-B has hit marketing home runs by injecting the “Wassup” guys into popular culture and utilizing the broad appeal of Cedric the Entertainer in the current TV spots for Bud Light and designated-driver initiatives. But McNeil notes that competitors are doing far more to break through into both communities with much less.

For example, Coors has had multicultural outreaches crafted by Carol H. Williams Advertising, New York, and Bromley Communications, San Antonio. Miller has been involved in the Thurgood Marshall Foundation, and features Mexican comedian Adal Ramones in spots from Bravo, New York.

And Heineken may be the best multicultural marketer in the beer category with grassroots programs such as the NYC Latino Tour program of summer concerts, and scholarships to support budding urban talent through the Heineken Music Initiative.

“Adding these two people to their arsenal is good, and I’m sure they’re going to bring good ideas, but they’ll have to find a way to have a breakthrough on delivery to each one of the targets,” said Images’ McNeil. “They’ll have to think about mature marketing in an innovative way because their competitors are extremely hungry.”