Mr. Lachky said published reports that A-B was phasing out the frogs, credited with rejuvenating Bud, "were greatly exaggerated."
"It would be crazy to just walk away from the frogs' equity," he said. "We've got it in our [point-of-purchase] materials, it's all over bars. But you can't run it into the ground. Any campaign needs to be managed. It's been our primary brand message for the past 18 months."
Most likely, the frogs will play a supporting role in a spot now being shot by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, that debuts a new character, Larry the Lizard. In the creative, Larry is a swamp neighbor who is jealous of the frogs' fame and fortune.
Although there's been speculation the Larry spot would debut during the Super Bowl, it won't air until early March, Mr. Lachky said, adding that it's not likely to evolve into a full-blown campaign.
"It's one of about 10 ideas we're considering at the moment," he said.
DDB Needham Worldwide, Bud's agency of record, doesn't currently have any frog ads in production.
Among key A-B spots that will bow Jan. 26 on the Super Bowl are a 60-second Budweiser ad from DDB Needham, Chicago, directed by Breck Eisner, son of Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner, and the premiere of a new Bud Light campaign (AA, Nov. 18).
AD STRATEGY DEBATE
The proper course for Bud advertising has been in question internally for some time. Executives familiar with the discussions say VP-Marketing August Busch IV has been an advocate of the frogs because of their appeal to new drinkers. His father, Chairman August Busch III, has been more skeptical, arguing Bud ads should focus on freshness and quality.
Ads supporting A-B's freshness dating are currently being produced by both Goodby and DDB Needham.
Although Anheuser-Busch enters 1997 with its sales improving, its flagship Budweiser continues to cede market share to No. 2-ranked Bud Light. According to Impact Databank, 1996 shipments for Bud were off 1.9%, totaling 36.5 million barrels. By comparison, Bud Light's shipments grew 12.8%, totaling 20.2 million barrels.
A-B has told distributors it plans to push hard on marketing Bud this year, as the company readies for a systemwide price increase in February.
For the first nine months of 1996, A-B spent $110.8 million in media on Budweiser, according to Competitive Media Reporting. That represents an 11.2% increase from the same period in 1995.
Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo.