Anheuser Busch InBev is making key marketing leadership changes in the U.S. that affect its massive but struggling Bud Light brand and its sprawling media operations. The moves come the same week the brewer kicked off a global media agency review that could affect its U.S. incumbent, WPP's MediaCom.
The brewer will turn to 37-year company veteran Andy Goeler as the new VP for Bud Light, replacing Alex Lambrecht, who is moving to an undetermined role. Mr. Goeler, 60, is one of the few remaining holdovers in the marketing department from the old Anheuser Busch, which became AB InBev in 2008 after Brazilian-run InBev bought the U.S. brewer. Mr. Goeler ran Bud Light in the 1990s and was involved in some of the brew's most iconic campaigns, including "Real Men of Genius."
"He is the most experienced marketer we have in our organization and he's got an outstanding track record of results," said U.S. Marketing VP Marcel Marcondes, who assumed the brewer's top U.S. marketing job late last year.
The leadership change on Bud Light comes as the brand continues to struggle. Shipments fell 4% last year as its U.S.-leading beer market share fell from 17% to 16.2%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. And sales remain in negative territory this year, dropping 4.6% in the four-week period ending March 11, according to Nielsen data recently cited by Beer Marketer's Insights.
The brewer is also making changes that will affect its media operations and agency review, which was announced earlier this week.
Lucas Herscovici, a 15-year veteran who has overseen the U.S. media and sponsorship budget since 2014 as VP-consumer connections, is taking a global role as marketing VP of strategic functions covering innovation, media and insights. The promotion, which is effective in June, makes him the point person on the agency review, in which the brewer is looking to consolidate its roster of eight shops to as few as one or two in the wake of last year's $103 billion acquisition of SABMiller.
In the U.S. he will be replaced by Joao Chueiri, a 3-year AB InBev veteran and former Nike employee in Latin America, who most recently was the brewer's global marketing VP for core brands. He will report directly to Mr. Marcondes, who confirmed that Mr. Chueiri will have influence over the media agency decision, along with Mr. Herscovici.
AB InBev is the 20th-largest U.S. advertiser, spending $1.68 billion in 2015, the latest full-year data available from the Ad Age Datacenter.
In an interview Friday, Mr. Marcondes said the agency review is driven by the SABMiller acquisition, which created a global brewing behemoth and expanded AB InBev's footprints in Africa and other regions. The review puts up for grabs media agency operations in more than 50 countries. Every major agency holding company has been invited to pitch.
Mr. Marcondes said the agency review is "a natural process for us to make as a consequence of our combination with SABMiller. The impact on our business is huge. The world for us now is much bigger than it used to be, so it does make sense that we review this very important part of our business."
Mr. Goeler's return to Bud Light signals the brewer's intent to return the brew to its roots of taking a straightforward marketing approach emphasizing fun. Shades of that strategy are already apparent in the brand's new "Famous Among Friends" campaign that broke in January that seeks to position the beer as a brew for bonding time among good buddies. Bud Light had previously veered into celebrity-driven, politically themed marketing with its "Bud Light Party" campaign that used humor to push progressive issues like gay rights and equal pay for women.
The new campaign was launched in the early days of the tenure of Mr. Marcondes, who takes a self-described "no bullshit" marketing approach. He is not pinning all the responsibility on advertising to reverse Bud Light's fortunes.
"The campaign is a very important part of this equation but it can never solve all the problems alone," he said, adding that marketing and sales must work together. Speaking about Mr. Goeler, he said: "He knows our system more than anyone else. He works with our wholesalers system more than anyone else, so he's got it all."
Mr. Goeler, a native of New Jersey, began his beer career on the wholesale side as a sales representative. "Having a relationship with the wholesale system is something I can bring to help the Bud Light brand moving forward," he said in an interview, in which he described himself as one of the "handful of us the oldtimers" still at the brewer. He said he wants to ensure distributors "are passionate about the beers and able to have a commercial plan that they can execute."
In the 1990s, he joined the Bud Light brand when it was running the humorous "I Love You, Man" ads, he said. His tenure also coincided with the iconic "Real Men of Genius" campaign that aired primarily on radio.
Asked about his marketing approach, he said: "The beer business is about fun, it is about friends, it's about getting together. And it doesn't need to be that complicated."
His immediate plans include meeting next week with Wieden & Kennedy New York, which has been the lead creative agency on Bud Light since mid-2015. "I can't wait to meet them," he said. "I hold them in very high regard."
AB InBev's other leadership changes include expanding the role of Chelsea Phillips. She was previously senior director for value brands, but will now add "near beer" to her portfolio, which includes brands such Bud Light Lime-A-Rita. Rashmi Patel, who oversaw a so-called "share of throat" team overseeing Lime-A-Rita and other brands including Best Damn Root Beer, is leaving the brewer.