Anheuser-Busch Gets First Taste of Viral-Video Success

YouTube Favorite 'Crowntown' Hints at Bud.tv's Future Programming

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CHICAGO -- Anheuser-Busch Cos. -- in the midst of preparations for the launch of its online TV network Bud.tv next month -- is enjoying its first viral-video success a bit early.
The marketer has said that short comedy pieces similar to "Crowntown" will be a central component of Bud.tv, at the moment there are no plans to incorporate "Crowntown" into the network.



"Crowntown," a series of digital shorts developed by A-B's agency of record, Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago, has grown into YouTube's No. 44 most-watched channel this month, with three videos approaching 1 million views.

Crown's spikes come to life as hipsters

The shorts' characters are the five dotted spikes on Budweiser Select's now-familiar crown logo, and each has been endowed with the urban-hipster persona that A-B imagines for Budweiser Select drinkers. (The Crowntown.tv website describes "Jennie" as "cute," "one of the guys" and into Greek mythology and pilates classes. The well-traveled "Tee," we're told, spends his time chasing Asian and Scandinavian flight attendants at a local hot spot.)

Each short pits the characters in amusing and occasionally R-rated social situations. One shows a male character stuck in an elevator with an in-the-mood female colleague unaware that the guy's text-messaging his pals about an increasingly urgent need to find a bathroom following his lunch of Mexican food.

The adventures are framed by a guitar-riff soundtrack courtesy of the Flaming Lips.

"The idea was to have a sort of 'Entourage' meets 'Seinfeld,' but in a viral context," said Rudy Beltran, co-brand director (along with rapper Jay-Z) for Bud Select. "We asked DDB for an idea that really played with the urban, adult drinker."

"Crowntown" may provide a clue into the tone of Bud.tv, the eight-channel online network A-B is launching next month. The marketer has said that short comedy pieces similar to "Crowntown" will be a central component of that effort. But Mr. Beltran said that, at the moment, there are no plans to incorporate "Crowntown" into the network.

Trying to pump up Bud Select sales

"Crowntown" is the latest initiative by A-B to pump up sales of Bud Select, which slumped in 2006 after a promising launch year in 2005. The upscale light beer saw supermarket case sales drop 0.4% through Nov. 5, although those numbers are padded because Bud Select didn't start selling until March 2005. For the 13 weeks ended Nov. 5, sales declined 14.6%.

The brand's advertising -- alternately featuring the brand's crown logo, Jay-Z and A-B's new CEO, August Busch IV -- has employed glossy celebrity and distinctive music and visuals to clearly position the beer as an option for young urbanites.

"That's one of the things about beer advertising," said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights. "The ads that are the most popular and the most talked about don't always sell the most beer."

And that paradox seems to be applying to beer viral videos as well. The beer category's biggest YouTube splash to date, footage of an air cannon firing cans of Miller Brewing Co.'s Milwaukee's Best at unmanly objects such as china and fruit, drew about 3 million views but failed to boost the discount brand's moribund sales.

Questions about age verification

And like other viral campaigns from booze marketers, "Crowntown" raises key questions about age verification. Alcohol marketers all put their official websites behind firewalls that require users to at least claim to be of legal drinking age before viewing content. But -- like YouTube-posted videos from Miller and Diageo -- the Crowntown TV channel A-B and DDB set up on YouTube presents no similar obstacles.

An A-B spokeswoman said YouTube complies with Beer Institute's marketing code standard that mandates all beer ads be placed in venues where at least 70% of the audience is of legal drinking age.

"According to ComScore/MediaMetrix, YouTube.com meets this standard," an A-B spokeswoman said in a statement. "Just as with television, music or movies, parents should be aware of the internet sites their teens are visiting, and they should establish rules for internet usage."
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