Anheuser-Busch today named Wm. Wrigley Jr. executive Paul Chibe as its VP-marketing in the U.S., tapping the longtime food marketer to boost its struggling U.S. beer brands.
Mr. Chibe, an 11-year Wrigley veteran who most recently was VP- general manager for gum and mints, replaces Keith Levy, who left the brewer in January.
"Paul has 20 years of marketing experience building diverse and well-known fast-moving consumer brands," said Dave Peacock, head of the U.S. commercial division of Anheuser-Busch InBev, A-B's global parent. "We looked for someone with this deep and wide experience in reaching today's consumers with traditional and social media, experiential marketing and multicultural programs, and we found that in Paul."
Mr. Chibe's biggest charge will be to pump life into Bud Light and Budweiser, the No. 1 and No. 2 U.S. beer brands respectively, which have declined during the economic downturn. Bud, in particular, has sagged, with experts predicting that it might soon lose its second-place spot to Coors Light.
"Neither brand has been going in the right direction -- Bud for a very, very long time," said Benj Steinman, president of Beer Marketer's Insights, a leading beer trade magazine. Bud "is a major global priority of A-B InBev. If they can even get that close to even in [the U.S.], that 's a big win."
At Wrigley, Mr. Chibe has shown a willingness to take risks, especially with the company's 5 gum brand, which broke new ground in the gum category with slick packaging, innovative flavors and a highly produced ad campaign called "Stimulate Your Senses" that equated gum-chewing with intense human feats.
"When you push the envelope in your creative, [consumers] go with you because they understand that your hyperbole lets them suspend their disbelief," Mr. Chibe told Ad Age last year, which featured 5 in its hottest brand series.
Still, Mr. Chibe might face a learning curve because he is short on beer experience. Before joining Wrigley, he spent three years at the marketing department of Quaker Oats Co., where he worked on new-product assignments in the ready-to-eat cereal and convenience-food business. Before that he spent six years at Leaf, now part of Hershey Co.
"Chewing gum to beer -- maybe it's a little bit of a leap," Mr. Steinman said. But it has "some relevancy in terms of dealing with millennial consumers," who are now approaching the legal drinking age.
In its statement, A-B said Mr. Chibe will begin June 1 and will "transition into the role" initially working alongside Frank Abenante, A-B InBev's global VP-brands and insights, who filled Mr. Levy's job on an interim basis.
Under the watchful eye of its global parent, A-B has most recently put a new emphasis on premium brands such as Stella Artois, while seeking to boost its Bud and Bud Light business by increasing prices on its below-premium brands, such as Natural Light, in hopes of getting drinkers to trade up. The brewer has also showed a willingness to use a variety of agencies, especially for Bud Light, where Omnicom Group's DDB, Dentsu's McGarryBowen and St. Louis-based Cannonball have competed for work. Bud creative has been handed over to Anomaly , which has sought to bring younger drinkers into the fold with the "Grab Some Buds" campaign.