A-B InBev Seeks Mad Men of Genius for Bud Light

Brewer Looks Inside and Outside Roster for Ideas on Country's Biggest Beer Brand With $276M in Ad Support

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Here we go.

Bud Light's current tagline-aimed at rallying drinkers for good times-might also describe the brewer's recent move to solicit fresh thinking from ad agencies. Anheuser-Busch InBev under new U.S. VP-Marketing Paul Chibe has put its biggest domestic brand in review, asking at least a half dozen agencies to submit creative ideas for U.S. branding work likely to begin in 2012, Ad Age has learned.

"We are discussing with several advertising agencies some new possibilities in supporting Bud Light," Mr. Chibe said in a statement to Ad Age late last week. "It's too early to predict where this will lead, but we are firmly committed to making sure our brands are always supported by the best people and ideas. We are excited to find ways to take Bud Light to even higher levels."

For agencies it's a chance to work on the biggest ad-spending account in all of beer, with more than $276 million in measured media spending in 2010, according to Kantar Media.

So who's pitching? Industry executives say A-B InBev is casting a much wider net than it has in the past. While some shops that have been invited to present creative work have worked with the brewer for Super Bowl work and other projects in the past, the company is also said to be in talks with a handful of undisclosed shops it's never partnered with before.

Although longtime incumbent DDB is participating, the review is a sign of a strained relationship. DDB's latest pitch is being made not by its Chicago office -- which has long been the headquarters for the account -- but from a team of players made up from across North America, industry executives said.

Another incumbent, Cannonball, seems to be in better standing. The St. Louis agency was recently picked for a football-themed campaign this fall that will kick off Bud Light's new NFL sponsorship. Contrary to what some people assumed when Mr. Chibe joined A-B InBev in June, he's not looking at BBDO, a shop he worked with closely during his 11 years at candy maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. BBDO, which handles Guinness, is not part of the process.

It's hard to overstate the importance of Bud Light to A-B InBev in the states. CEO Carlos Brito during the company's recent earnings call said it's "No. 1 priority in the U.S. is to accelerate the growth of Bud Light." He added: "The key brand-health indicators for Bud Light continued to improve and we gained share in the quarter," but, "we believe we can do better."

Although Bud Light has struggled during the economic downturn, it remains by far the best-selling beer in the U.S., commanding 19.1% market share at the end of 2010, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Recently, grocery sales picked up 1.55% in the year ending Aug. 7, according to SymphonyIRI, which excludes liquor stores and Walmart.

The brewer is said to want ideas for marketing that aren't confined to just ads, but extend to content, packaging, events and other areas.

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