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Report Card: Paul Chibe's Celebrity-Filled Legacy at A-B Gets Mixed Reviews

From Made in America to Justin Timberlake, a Look at Departing Marketing Chief's Work

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Anheuser-Busch InBev made headlines when the brewer recently announced its top U.S. marketing executive, Paul Chibe, would be leaving in the coming weeks. His replacement is Jorn Socquet, the brewer's VP-marketing in Canada since 2010. Mr. Chibe has cited family reasons and the brewer said it was his decision. But his exit comes as A-B InBev faces pressure to boost the performance of Bud Light, which will debut a campaign in the Super Bowl.

Paul Chibe
Paul Chibe

Overall, Mr. Chibe's performance has gotten mixed reviews. He steered the brewer into more aggressive social-media marketing, signed high-profile endorsement deals with the likes of Jay Z and sought to craft a more sophisticated brand of ad humor than the sophomoric style that he felt was dragging down the beer category. But he also veered from one agency to the next on Bud Light, and the brewer's ad performance has been inconsistent.

"I wished I could've gotten to BBDO sooner," Mr. Chibe said, referring to the shop that won the account last year, after it was briefly parked at McGarryBowen and Translation, the last of which still handles line extensions. But "there were challenges early on," he said, citing potential conflicts with Diageo's Guinness, which remains a BBDO client. And what about the campaigns? Ace Metrix, which uses consumer panels to judge ads, ranked Bud Light ads No. 7 in the beer category for 2013, according to preliminary scores shared with Ad Age. The brand's ads fell from fifth in 2012 and third in 2011, the year Mr. Chibe started. But Budweiser jumped to No. 3 from eighth in 2012. One beer distributer might have put it best, telling Beer Business Daily that the brewer's marketing has been "not awful, but not wonderful."

Grading Mr. Chibe's efforts

A
Budweiser: "Brotherhood"

This emotional Clydesdales spot by Anomalydebuted in last year's Super Bowl, chronicling the bond a foal has with its trainer. It used the perfect song, Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," and got rave reviews by consumers, winning USA Today's Ad Meter, and was lauded for its effectiveness.

B+
Budweiser: Track Your Bud

Advertising Age Player


Advertising Age Player

Ace Metrix gave good scores to these ads, which feature the company's highly respected regional brewmasters in a back-to-basics approach that put faces behind the brand. An innovative digital execution included an app that gives drinkers more information on how their individual beer was made. The brand also continued its "Grab Some Buds" ads by Anomaly, which helped Bud to a "strong year," according to Ace Metrix.

B-
Budweiser: "Made In America"

A key plank of Mr. Chibe's strategy was to boost brand appeal with millennials using music-themed marketing. He signed Jay Z to back Bud and curate a music festival in Philadelphia in 2012 that was made into a Ron Howard-directed documentary aired on Showtime. The event, which returned last year, earned attention. But is it sustainable? Said Bob Lachky, a former A-B chief creative officer: "Music is not a strategy. That mistake was made by us back in the late 1990s when we had a year or two of nothing but a music strategy for Budweiser. You can't own music."

Mr. McCarthy (a former VP for brand Bud) countered that the marketer's objective with music is to "connect with beer drinkers through music. It's not to own music." He said Made in America would continue next year, saying it is a multicultural platform that is not just about music but "the culture behind music."

C+
Bud Light: "It's Only Weird if it Doesn't Work"

Translation's NFL-themed campaign features the quirky superstitions hard-core fans can relate to. The creative is strong, but according to Mr. Lachky, it doesn't do enough to sell the product.

An Ace Metrix executive described the campaign as a "mixed bag." Rob McCarthy, VP for Bud Light, said the campaign is about "a lot more than just the NFL," adding that it celebrates "Bud Light's role in the [fan's] passion and love of the game."

C-
Bud Light Platinum: Justin Timberlake

Justin, we hardly knew ya. Bud Light, with the help of Translation, signed Mr. Timberlake to back its new higher-alcohol line extension in 2013. The pop star appeared in ads but the deal only lasted a year, and Mr. Timberlake has moved on to partner with Beam Inc. Meanwhile, sales of Platinum, which rocketed out of the gate in 2012, have slowed.

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