How A-B InBev Is Using Food in Its Beer Marketing

Premium Stella Artois Goes Gourmet, While Budweiser Touts Hamburger Pairings

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If Budweiser is for burgers, then Stella Artois is for kale, according to new food-inspired marketing by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The brewer -- which recently launched a national "Bud & Burgers" best hamburger contest -- on Saturday will debut the first TV ad for its new "Host Beautifully" campaign for Stella that seeks to bolster the imported brand's gourmet credentials. The spot (above), by Mother, New York, shows a man hosting a party for four in a hot air balloon, serving hors d'oeuvres above a hilly, green countryside.

Stella is seeking more foodie love online, where it is touting a "A-Z guide to host beautifully." The brand has signed up music star John Legend, fashionistas and celebrity chefs to contribute sophisticated party tips in the guide.

Each tip corresponds with a letter of the alphabet. For instance, the entry for "B" is for "bon vivant" and features chef and cookbook author Aliya LeeKong, who shares a recipe for "massaged kale salad with pear, fresh cheese, and pomegranate vinaigrette." Mr. Legend is included in the "A" for "ambience" entry in which he curates a music playlist to "set the perfect mood." Mr. Legend kicked off the program in May with a music performance at what the brand called a "private, chic soiree" in Southern California that included hot-air balloon rides.

In the coming weeks, A-B InBev plans to push the hosting guide in digital media. Paid support will include Instagram's recently launched "carousel" ad format that allows advertisers to use multiple photos and link to a brand's site.

The goal is to create "snackable content" that is "very easy to access and digest, especially through your mobile phone," said Ricardo Marques, VP of high-end marketing for A-B InBev, which gives him responsibility over premium brands. He declined to reveal Stella's 2015 ad budget, but said "the brand has a ton of momentum and we are making sure that we are investing accordingly." Stella got $39 million in measured media support last year in the U.S., according to Kantar Media

Stella's sales surged 13.7% in the 52 weeks ending April 19 to $234.5 million, according to IRI, which does not include bar and restaurant sales. The "Host Beautifully" campaign plays off Stella's "She is a Thing of Beauty" tagline that has for several years payed homage to the brand's signature chalice glass that has long been used in bars to help sell the Belgian lager.

Stella began making a significant pivot to food-inspired marketing last summer with an online video series called "The Butcher, the Baker, the Belgian Beer Maker." It was produced by Vice Media and featured Chrissy Teigen (Mr. Legend's wife), Ms. LeeKong and Cara Nicoletti, a Brooklyn butcher. The goal was to spotlight the "central creative role that women are playing in modern cuisine," the brand said in a statement last year.

There is a "lot of power around the foods space," Mr. Marques said.

That is especially true for beer brands, which are increasingly linked to food promotions at national restaurant chains. Tilted Kilt, for instance, recently ran a promotion in which it suggested specific beers to pair with new chicken wing sauces. A mango habanero flavor was touted to go with Corona Extra, while Dos Equis was the suggested pairing for raspberry chipotle.

Using beer to sell more food is "a story that makes sense to a lot of restaurants, and the smarter beer marketers are trying to do that," said David Henkes, a VP at Technomic, a food-consulting firm.

Budweiser's national burger campaign includes a TV ad touting Bud and burgers as the "original power couple."

For the contest, Budweiser is asking everyday people to compete for making the "best burger paired with a Bud." Contestants are asked to upload videos or photos of their burger to a special website. Semi-finalists will compete head-to-head at 10 nationwide "Bud & Burgers Championships" with the winner crowned at a July 11 event at a Bud brewery in St. Louis hosted by celebrity chef David Chang.

Budweiser also secured placement in a new six-episode TV series on Esquire Network called "United States of Burgers." The Bud burger contest winner will compete on the show against foodies and chefs in "head-to-head battles in a made-for-TV search for the perfect burger to pair with Budweiser," according to a recent statement from the brand.

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