As the beer wars intensify and consumers get greater control over their viewing choices, Anheuser-Busch Co., is hoping the new shop—launched by two veterans of the commercial-production industry, Georges Bermann and Steve Dickstein, co-owners of the spot shop Partizan—will help it find new ways to engage audiences.
"We are forming an alliance," said Bob Lachky, VP-brand management and director of global brand creative at Anheuser-Busch. "We're endorsing this and we are excited about it." DTC (the acronym stands for Direct to Consumer) will be doing project work with John Immesoete, former group creative director at Bud's ad shop, Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago.
Lachky said the relationship with Immesoete and Budweiser will not be exclusive, but: "John will be the first guy who we will put money behind and put an investment in."
"We have groundbreaking projects that we are working on with John," said Dickstein.
Immesoete who left DDB to focus on creating "entertainment propelled ideas that have a strong brand connection," is working independently. "It doesn't make sense for me to enter into another corporate structure."
DTC is likely to push Budweiser into movie, TV and Internet Webisode ventures— strong suits of its sibling Partizan, which reps such high-profile spot and movie directors as Michel Gondry and Traktor. DTC will be a separate entity apart from Partizan "devoted to doing entertainment initiatives for marketers and advertising agencies," Dickstein said. "We don't intend to be an advertising agency."
"The concept of DTC is to be a consulting company," added Bermann. "But we will operate like a production company, attracting people who have been in the advertising business but who want to do something different, who will want to come up with new ideas and new concepts. And because of our film and music-video history, we have connections in music, television and movies."
A native of Chicago, Immesoete spent the last eight years creating Bud and Bud Light ads. "You could argue that a lot of the beer advertising that we did at DDB is essentially branded entertainment," he added. "It's entertaining, but it just happens to be in a 30-second format."
While Budweiser, which has relied heavily on TV ads, has gotten a lot of attention for its 30-second spots, such as the cultural-phenom "Whassup?" campaign, the Budweiser frogs and most recently "True" and "Real Men of Genius," it has also explored long-form initiatives, some of it executed by Immesoete and Partizan.
Immesoete directed, along with DDB Exec VP-Producer Greg Popp, a Bud-sponsored short film "The Wedding Toast," produced by Partizan.
A-B has also sponsored a commercial-free David Letterman show and feature films on cabler FX, including "Deuce Bigalow" and "Me, Myself and Irene." It has also aggressively placed product on subscriber TV. "We have a good working relationship with commercial-free channels, like HBO," said Tony Ponturo, A-B's VP-global media and sports marketing.
%%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%% These efforts notwithstanding, A-B's rivals have pushed aggressively into the Madison + Vine space as well. In 2002, Adolph Coors Co. and Miramax formed a partnership that gave the brewer product placement in films and at premieres. Coors also helped underwrite NBC's "The Restaurant." SABMiller has explored developing a sitcom based on its Miller High Life campaign that would feature a blue-collar, All-American guy.
According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, which does not identify all branded-entertainment spending, A-B spent $115 million on Budweiser and Bud Light last year in ads, but only $315,000 on sports and entertainment sponsorships.
Budweiser's branded-entertainment move opens up a flank in the category leader's battle for consumer share against distant runner-up brands Miller Lite and Genuine Draft. Miller Lite posted a 0.6% increase in shipments last year, its first gain since 1999, according to figures in Beer Marketer's Insights. Bud Light racked up a 2.5% increase, its worst showing since 1995.