A-B shifts strategy to import brews

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Anheuser-Busch is counting on new high-price brews to continue its market share climb, but extensions of its existing frogs and "Whassup?!" ad concepts will be mainstays.

At the brewer's annual distributors conference in Atlanta last week, A-B executives said although the company's primary emphasis remains on Budweiser and Bud Light, it wants to enhance A-B's superpremium presence with imports or importlike beers as well as malt beverages.

"A-B will spend a lot of time and effort to increase share of the high-margin beers," such as its Tequiza and Michelob brands as well as specialty brews such as Redhook, one meeting attendee said.

A-B management did not address whether the brewer would up its estimated $320 million annual marketing budget, according to distributors, and VP-Brand Management Bob Lachky could not be reached for comment by press time.

Among the options for A-B -- which brews Japanese-style Kirin in Van Nuys, Calif., and owns a significant share of Cerveceria Modelo, brewer of No. 1 import Corona -- is creating a pricey beer that is brewed domestically but made exclusively from imported hops, barley and other ingredients.


"They're trying to . . . somehow play a big role in the imported beer game," a West Coast wholesaler said.

Import growth is skyrocketing past domestic beers, which grew only about 2% last year. A-B sees imports as a means to move the brewer closer to its desired 60% market share. Last year, its share hit 47.5%, up 0.7 of a point from 1998.

Other high-price products to reach market this year include Doc Otis' hard lemon malt beverage, which rolls out May 1, and Tequiza Extra, an extension of A-B's successful tequila-flavor beer, which launched March 20 (AA, Jan. 31). Other line extensions also are likely, distributors said, although prospects for Rhumba, a rum-flavor beer testing in Florida, are uncertain.

To make Tequiza Extra look more like Corona, A-B will make the bottles heftier with longer necks. Pricing for Doc Otis' will be in line with that of Tequiza, one of the brewer's most expensive offerings.

At the meeting, distributors saw new versions of the "Whassup?!" Budweiser ads that broke Dec. 27 and were featured on January's Super Bowl. Mr. Lachky told distributors the campaign would be "taken on the road," and wholesalers saw one spot set in a Japanese restaurant where a waiter asks a "Whassup?!" guy if he wants wasabi with his meal. "It's one of the funniest commercials I've ever seen," said the meeting attendee.

Three more commercials from DDB Worldwide, Chicago, are in production and will break before summer.


Other Budweiser spots will pit Louie the lizard against Turtle in a bid for presidency of the swamp, a story line that will evolve as the November election nears. TV spots will run, but quick-turnaround radio spots will be the primary advertising engine, the distributor said. "If something catches people's eye in the general election, it will be incorporated into [A-B] advertising very quickly," he said.

A-B will also continue DDB's Bud Light ads that show the lengths to which people will go to get the beer, as well as more spots spoofing country western crooner Tim McGraw. Those suggest his following pales in comparison to his singer-wife Faith Hill and father, veteran relief pitcher Tug McGraw.

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