As the beer wars intensify and consumers get greater control over their viewing choices, Anheuser-Busch Co., is hoping the new shop-launched by two veterans of the commercial production industry, Georges Bermann and Steve Dickstein, co-owners of the spot shop Partizan-will help it find new ways of engaging audiences.
"We are forming an alliance ," said Bob Lackey, VP-brand management and director of global brand creative at Anheuser-Busch. "We're endorsing this and we are excited about it."
While Budweiser, which has relied heavily on TV ads, has gotten a lot of attention for its 30-second spots, such as the cultural-phenom "Whassup?" campaign, the Budweiser frogs and most recently "True" and "Real Men of Genius," some of its rivals have pushed more aggressively into the Madison & Vine space. In 2002, Adolph Coors Co. and Miramax formed a partnership that gave the brewer product placement in films and at premieres. Coors also was a sponsor of NBC's "The Restaurant." SABMiller has explored developing a sitcom on its Miller High Life campaign that features a blue-collar, All-American guy.
According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, which does not identify all branded-entertainment spending, A-B spent $115 million on Budweiser and Bud Light last year, but only $315,000 on sports and entertainment sponsorships.
DTC (the acronym stands for Direct to Consumer) opens for business with a significant first hire: John Immesoete, who recently resigned as group creative director at Bud's ad shop, Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago.
Mr. Lackey said the relationship between DTC and Budweiser will not be exclusive, but "John will be the first guy who we will put money behind and put an investment in."
Mr. Lackey said the charge to the DDB creative team-Mark Gross, creative director, handling the Bud Light advertising and Barry Burdiak, creative director, overseeing Budweiser-is to keep focused on the spots.
A native of Chicago, Mr. Immesoete spent the last eight years creating Bud and Bud Light ads. He also directed, along with DDB exec VP-producer Greg Popp, the Bud-sponsored short film "The Wedding Toast," both produced by Partizan. Mr. Immesoete would not comment on his deal with DTC other than to say that it is in negotiation and has not been finalized. He did confirm, however, that he left DDB to focus on creating "entertainment propelled ideas that have a strong brand connection."
"You could argue that a lot of the beer advertising that we did at DDB is essentially branded entertainment," he added. "It's entertaining, but it just happens to be in a 30-second format."
A-B has already sponsored a commercial-free "Late Night with David Letterman" on CBS and feature films on FX, including "Deuce Bigalow," and "Me, Myself and Irene," and created "Budweiser Best Man" short films as intermissions on the channel. It has also aggressively placed product on subscriber TV. "We have a good working relationship with commercial-free channels, like HBO," said Tony Ponturo, A-B's VP-global media and sports marketing.
Budweiser's relationship with DTC opens up a flank in the category leader's battle for consumer share against distant No. 2 brands Miller Lite and Genuine Draft. Miller Lite posted a 0.6% increase in shipments last year, its first gain since 1999, according to figures in Beer Marketer's Insights. Bud Light racked up a 2.5% increase, its worst showing since 1995.
DTC is likely to push Budweiser into movie, TV and Internet Web-isode ventures-the strong suit of its sibling Partizan, which reps such high-profile spot and movie directors as Michel Gondry and the directing team Traktor. DTC will be a separate entity "devoted to doing entertainment initiatives for marketers and advertising agencies," Mr. Dickstein said, who declined to comment on Mr. Immesoete and Budweiser.
"We don't intend to be an advertising agency," Mr. Dickstein said of DTC. "We are working with ad people and the Hollywood community ... and though some of these initiatives may end up as straight advertising opportunities, they will be part of larger 360-degree branding ideas."
contributing: james b. arndorfer