A-B Looks to Ride Imports’ Wave

Quintessential American brewer Anheuser-Busch wants to tap into U.S. drinkers’ growing fondness for imported beer with Anheuser World Select European-style lager. But unlike Michelob Ultra, A-B’s most recent high-end product launch, Select is getting a deliberately modest ad push.

With import sales up 9.8 percent to $1.5 billion in 2002, according to Information Resources Inc., St. Louis-based A-B is launching the beer today in select markets with an outdoor, print and point-of-sale effort by Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos in Boston. The shop’s A-B work has included the Clydesdales 2002 and 2003 Super Bowl spots. A national rollout is planned for August.

All of the work showcases World Select’s green bottle in front of a green glowing globe, and copy tells how August A. Busch IV, president of A-B’s domestic unit, had his top 10 worldwide brewmasters develop the beer. The tagline is, “Ten brewmasters, four continents, one beer.”

Hill, Holliday execs could not be reached. A-B would not elaborate on the campaign.

World Select adspend will be less than the $20 million spent to launch Michelob Ultra last year, sources said. “They are relying more on word-of-mouth,” said one source.

“The strategy is very simple,” said Tom Pirko, president of Santa Barbara, Calif., consultancy Bevmark. “[A-B] is the master player who can be all things to all people.”

World Select will compete with European imported beers such as Heineken, as well as other high-end brews. Heineken, handled by Publicis in New York, spends $70 million annually on ads, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

—with David Gianatasio