A-B InBev Names AKQA First Digital AOR in U.S.

WPP Shop Will Handle Bud Light, Budweiser, Stella

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Anheuser-Busch InBev has named AKQA as its U.S. digital agency of record for Budweiser, Bud Light and Stella Artrois, continuing a string of agency changes at the nation's largest brewer, Ad Age has learned.

The shop, which was acquired by WPP this summer, will oversee online marketing, mobile programs, content creation and application development, said Lucas Herscovici, the brewer's VP-digital marketing for its North American zone. He said the move is part of "a series of steps to amplify our digital strategy."

Up till now, A-B InBev had mostly used its creative agencies for digital duties, plus given digital project work to a smattering of shops. "We wanted to partner with a world-class digital agency to be able to ensure we also have world-class digital marketing that matches our traditional marketing," Mr. Herscovici said.

AKQA had previously worked on Heineken brands globally, but the parties are in the process of ending that relationship, according to a person familiar with the matter. That would ease any conflict concerns. U.S. importer Heineken USA declined comment but confirmed that it is using brand Heineken's creative shop, Wieden & Kennedy, for digital.

WPP also handles the competing Coors brands through a new shop called Cavalry that was established in the summer. AKQA Chairman Tom Bedecarre said "we don't share personnel with other WPP agencies" so "we don't see any conflict."

AKQA will handle the A-B InBev brands from its San Francisco office. Mr. Herscovici is also based in the Bay Area, where he recently served as A-B InBev's global director for strategic innovation and marketing before taking the North American job. Mr. Bedecarre suggested Mr. Herscovici's proximity to Silicon Valley will be helpful. "There's such a vibrant ecosystem of companies that are in the social and mobile space that I think would love to have the opportunity to partner with these [A-B] brands," he said. "We are looking forward to being able to do great things together."

AKQA's hiring is the latest in a series of changes made under U.S. VP-Marketing Paul Chibe, who joined the brewer a little more than a year ago. In August, the brewer handed the entire Bud Light creative account to Translation, cutting McGarryBowen from its U.S. agency roster after eight months. Late last year, A-B InBev tapped Publicis Groupe 's Starcom USA for U.S. media planning and research duties, which had previously been handled in house.

Bud Light is the largest U.S. beer brand, while Budweiser ranks No. 3, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Stella is one of the fastest-growing beers in the U.S., ranking as the fourth-largest import, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

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