Justin Timberlake Leaves A-B InBev, Joins Beam

Pop Star Changes Brand Allegiances

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Justin Timberlake is breaking up with Anheuser-Busch InBev and will join forces with Beam Inc. to market a new tequila called Sauza 901.

Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake

The pop star last February struck a deal with Bud Light Platinum in which he starred in ads and served as a creative and musical curator for the brand. But the brewer confirmed that the deal is ending.

"Bud Light Platinum and Justin Timberlake had an amazing partnership in 2013 that helped both Justin Timberlake and Bud Light Platinum reach deeper connections with consumers," Paul Chibe, A-B InBev VP for U.S. marketing, said in a statement. Mr. Timberlake "will always be a friend of Anheuser-Busch, and we look forward to future opportunities when they arise."

Mr. Timberlake's publicist did not return emails for comment.

After rocketing out of the gate in early 2012, Platinum has slowed. The beer, which is a higher alcohol version of Bud Light, controlled 1.09% of the beer category as of Nov. 3, compared with 1.21% in mid-May of last year, according to IRI, whose figures do not include bar and restaurant sales.

Mr. Timberlake's deal with Beam comes after competitor Diageo earlier this week announced a new joint venture with Sean "Diddy" Combs for the acquisition of a luxury tequila brand called DeLeĆ³n. Mr. Combs has for years marketed Diageo's Ciroc Vodka brand.

Sauza 901 is a super-premium line extension of Beam's core Sauza Tequila brand; it is essentially a restaging of the "901" brand that Mr. Timberlake launched on his own in 2009. Beam described the deal as a "co-branded partnership." The name is a reference to Mr. Timberlake's hometown area code in Memphis, Tenn.

"Justin Timberlake is a creative powerhouse, and we couldn't be more excited to join forces for this long-term partnership on Sauza 901," Bill Newlands, president of North America for Beam Inc., said in a statement. "We look forward to driving Sauza 901 in the marketplace with the backing of Beam's powerful marketing, sales and distribution organization."

The Sauza core brand is the second-largest tequila brand in the world with 11.2% volume share as of 2012, the latest data available from Euromonitor International. Timberlake's 901 was too small to make Euromonitor's rankings, which includes 53 brands.

Sauza 901 will initially be supported with social and digital marketing. No TV ads are planned at the moment, a Beam spokeswoman said, noting that the pop star's nearly 30 million Twitter followers would provide a "great built-in fan base" for the brand. The creative agency for the brand is Miami-based La Comunidad, which handles Beam's tequila portfolio. Barbarian Group will handle digital.

"My love for tequila began a few years ago after I visited the tequila heartland of Jalisco, Mexico, and saw the passion and craftsmanship that goes into every bottle," Mr. Timberlake said in a statement. "That trip inspired me to create 901, and I'm thrilled to partner with Sauza so we can continue to bring the world 901."

Mr. Timberlake's Bud Light Platinum deal was brokered last year by Translation, whose founder Steve Stoute has worked with Mr. Timberlake in the past. The shop at the time was the lead agency on core Bud Light, but lost the account last June to Energy BBDO. Translation remains on the A-B InBev roster for Bud Light line extensions, including Platinum.