CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Anheuser-Busch InBev is betting that a digital online reality show its global chief marketing officer describes as "American Idol" meets "Survivor" meets "football" can help the company use the FIFA World Cup to transform Budweiser into the Coke of Beers.
A-B execs offered a preview of the show, to be called "Bud House," and their plans for this summer's World Cup, the first since InBev's 2008 takeover of Anheuser-Busch. A key rationale for that merger was the global potential of Budweiser, a massive brand in the U.S., Canada and in some parts of Europe that has a much smaller footprint in South America and Africa, regions that boast some of the most hard-core soccer fans.
A-B's marketing efforts during the World Cup will focus on a platform called "Budweiser United," which Global CMO Chris Burggraeve said will strive to "make the brand aspirational for many people around the planet. Budweiser globally is about celebrating the can-do spirit. And Budweiser United is about letting the fans reward the players."
The platform -- to be supported by creative from Omnicom's DDB, Budweiser's global agency of record -- has three major planks.
One, the digital reality show "Bud House" will pit 32 fanatical fans -- one from each of the 32 countries whose national teams are participating in the soccer World Cup -- against each other in a "Big Brother"-style house in Capetown for the month-long tournament, which kicks off June 11.
Mixing rabid soccer fans and beer in a confined space has the potential to unleash mayhem -- and high ratings. Soccer hooligans have been known to wreak havoc and even kill each other. One war, the infamous four-day Soccer War ("La Guerra del Futbol") between El Salvador and Honduras, broke out during a qualifying match for the 1970 World Cup.
Sticking it out
Each "Bud House" player's chance to win will vanish when his or her national soccer team is eliminated, although everyone, no matter how depressed or enraged after their team is out, is supposed to stay the whole month. That also destroys some of the suspense, because the winner will be whoever is from the country that wins this year's World Cup.
The series will air six to eight online episodes a day, plus a live-streamed feed from the house. Jason Warner, global VP-Budweiser, said he expects the impression rate to "go through the roof."
Although A-B won't share any details, someone familiar with the matter said that how well -- or badly -- the participants are treated will vary according to how their respective teams are faring in the real-world soccer tournament.
A-B executives said they have received "thousands" of applications from would-be participants.
The two other "Budweiser United" planks aren't new. Budweiser sponsors a "Man of the Match" trophy, awarded to the most outstanding player of each game, chosen this year by an online consumer vote. In a well-integrated flourish, the reality-show participant representing the winning country will present the "Man of the Match" trophy to the hero of the final game.
A-B also sponsors a six-on-six amateur soccer tournament called the Budweiser Cup, which consists of local tournaments around the world and a trip to the World Cup for winners.
The World Cup seems an ideal platform to introduce the Bud brand around the world, but it's a less-obvious play in the U.S., where Budweiser remains the No. 2 brand behind Bud Light but has seen decades of sales declines. Mr. Burggraeve said soccer is becoming more popular. "If the U.S. becomes a power team, it really captures the attention of fans here."
Other, more local InBev brands will also benefit from the World Cup sponsorship in some markets. That's not entirely by choice, as a long-running legal fight with the Budvar brewery means the company is banned from using the Budweiser trademark in Germany, where it will shill Hasseroder this year, and in Belgium, where Jupiler will get the benefit of the platform. In China, A-B will go with the more popular Harbin brand.
And despite plans to launch Budweiser this year in Brazil -- where a pitch for the ad account has been narrowed down to finalists DDB Brasil, Leo Burnett and Loducca.MPM -- A-B will focus on InBev's dominant Brahma brand in that soccer-crazed country.