Q&A: Bud Light’s Marketing VP on the Bud Knight, Spuds MacKenzie and Everything in Between

'The core of what we do is fun'

The Bud Knight became an unexpected star for the brand. Bud Light
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

After his debut in Bud Light’s 2017 Dilly Dilly campaign, the Bud Knight has made cameos in three of America’s biggest sporting events: the Super Bowl, the Final Four and the Stanley Cup playoffs.

His streak is likely to continue. After the NFL season begins Sept. 5, Bud Light marketing vice president Andy Goeler said fans will see more of its medieval Dilly Dilly universe, including some new faces to play off the Bud Knight’s popularity.

The 37-year-old beer brand is no stranger to breakout ad stars. Bull terrier Spuds MacKenzie, for example, first appeared during the 1987 Super Bowl and went on to become not just a beer mascot, but a pop culture icon.

Goeler, who was one of Adweek’s 2018 Brand Genius class, has worked for Anheuser-Busch in various capacities since 1980. He’s now two years into his second stint with the Bud Light brand after leading marketing there in the ‘90s.

Adweek spoke to him about how marketing has changed since his last go-round, how Bud Light creates characters that resonate, and how the brand speaks to so many consumers at once.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

For starters, tell us how marketing has changed since you were last with Bud Light.
Andy Goeler: The consumer marketing landscape has changed dramatically since the ‘90s. The most obvious change is just the way kids interact with different digital and social platforms, which is significantly different than how they did it back in the ‘90s.

The consumer today is also into more variety-seeking, which led us to provide some new extensions in the Bud Light world like Orange, Lime and Lemon Tea.

I think the thing through it all is a brand like Bud Light has to have the ability to stay consistent with who you are as a brand. When I manage a brand, it’s all about managing the personalities, the way the brand behaves and acts. Bud Light has always been about fun, bringing people together, making good times better, and that’s been a core of the brand all through the ‘90s and even through today.

The poor Bud Knight has been through a lot this year, so it was nice he got to celebrate in St. Louis when the Blues won the Stanley Cup. But does the Game of Thrones finale impact his character arc?

The medieval world we created is really still very, very popular with consumers, and so we’re going to continue delivering content in that medieval world. It’s half the battle to get people to pay attention to your messaging.

The Bud Knight has been one of the characters we’ve developed in the medieval world. There will be a few new ones as we go into the NFL season, but as we look at the character, for some reason, the Bud Knight has really connected to a greater degree. Consumers seem to really like the character, and [when] we bring the Bud Knight into large events they line up and get pictures with him.

Was the St. Louis Blues’ victory parade the first time Bud Light has borrowed Budweiser’s Clydesdales?

It’s never been done before. That was tricky—the Clydesdales are an amazing symbol of heritage for Anheuser-Busch. Not to have the Clydesdales in a parade as big as the Blues winning the Stanley Cup? You can’t do it. As the Bud Light team, we said, “Wait a minute, this is Bud Light’s chance to shine.” The compromise was to put the Bud Knight with them.

You have so many different activations—the Bud Knight, Internet Heroes of Genius and Victory Fridges for Cleveland Browns fans, to name a few. Why? Are they all interconnected somehow?

The core of what we do is fun … it’s all about fun, sociability, friendships, coming together and having a good time … something as distinctive as the Internet Heroes of Genius … there’s nothing medieval about that at all. You could say they don’t connect, but a brand as big as Bud Light and as many segments of consumers you have to have conversations with, you need a variety of things.

Tell us about how Bud Light’s approach to the Bud Knight differs from that of Spuds MacKenzie in the 1980s.

I have found through the years, if you try too hard to create a character, it usually fails. I think the best way of doing it is putting things out there and letting consumers start the conversation. It’s too obvious and too fake when a brand is trying to create a character to have people mimic or praise. People shut that down fast. There has to be something they pick up on their own.

Dilly Dilly worked. We didn’t create Dilly Dilly and say this was going to be our next big tagline. We ran the spot—it was one spot of five spots—and all of a sudden on social, they started saying, “Dilly Dilly,” and it took on a life of its own.

That’s kind of what’s happening in our medieval world. The Bud Knight is the one they’re really connecting with for some reason. So I think characters are good because they provide a good focal point, but I think they have to organically arrive based on consumer appeal versus marketing creating a character. If it was that easy, there would be thousands of characters, but those Dilly Dilly campaigns are few and far between.

In 1982, Bud Light was new and presumably exciting, but 37 years later, there are a lot of other light beers. How do you distinguish Bud Light, and how do you keep it relevant?

Kids today are much more in tune to ingredients used in the products they consume. You walk through the grocery store and can see every product category has some callout on ingredients. We recently started to communicate to consumers we were going to be the first beer brand to put an ingredient label on package. We were the first in the industry to do that—and exactly what goes into brewing of Bud Light—and we called out our competitors. Not only do we want to know what goes into Bud Light and put ingredients on the label, we want you to know the difference between how Miller Lite, Coors Light and Michelob Ultra are brewed.

@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.