Behind Anheuser-Busch’s branding strategy for new Travis Scott-backed seltzer
As Anheuser-Busch InBev hypes the spring launch of its new Travis Scott-backed hard seltzer brand, it will bypass the kind of TV ad blitz typically befitting of such a major endorsement deal—and a Super Bowl spot seems out of the question, at least for now. Instead, the brewer will take a social-media heavy approach for Cacti, an agave-infused spiked seltzer that it describes as an extension of the rapper and fashion mogul’s personal brand.
“The goal of any brand nowadays is to be … ‘proud to hold’ or ‘proud to drink,’” says Lana Buchanan, VP of marketing for AB InBev’s so-called Beyond Beer division. “And the way that you really build that now is more around the social, the relevant content, interacting with [consumers] in different mediums, versus going in on TV.”
Of course, that is a lot easier to do with the backing of Scott, who in 2020 burst through as arguably the most powerful brand endorser/influencer/creator of the year. Scott’s two Instagram posts about Cacti drew nearly 1.4 million likes on Thursday within hours of going live, showing the potential of the social-heavy strategy.
Forbes recently dubbed Scott as “corporate America’s brand whisperer,” noting his deals with the likes of Epic Games, Nike and General Mills, which the magazine reported—quoting an unnamed source—are part of a haul that will help him net more than $100 million in corporate partnership earnings this year. His deal with McDonald’s, which took the form of the The Travis Scott Meal—a Quarter Pounder with cheese, bacon and lettuce, and fries, with BBQ sauce and a Sprite for $6—was a wild success, with demand so strong that it led to an ingredient shortage at some locations.
While the McDonald’s deal—which was pushed with a national TV spot—was a limited-time play, AB InBev is playing the long game with Scott, setting up the Cacti brand for possible extensions beyond the seltzer category, according to Buchanan, who describes Scott as a “co-creator, co-owner, partner.”
He was consulted on the creation of the liquid, which is brewed in Los Angeles and made with 100% premium blue agave from Mexico. Flavors include lime, pineapple and strawberry.
But where Scott might have the greatest influence is the branding aesthetic. The name Cacti is derived from Cactus Jack, the sub brand Scott created that he uses on various business exploits, including a record label and creative agency. Cactus Jack will handle Cacti’s marketing along with DraftLine, the brewer’s in-house agency.
The branding blends Mexican agave imagery with a cosmic ethos. Cans are emblazoned with a prickly image that the brand calls “Cacti-man.” Marketing materials show a large pointed object crashing into an agave field from the sky. The marketing slogan is: “Down to earth ingredients. Out of this world flavor.”
“This is Travis’ vision,” Buchanan says. “This Cacti-man crashes into the agave fields and what comes out of that is the Cacti seltzer, that is the inspiration behind it.”
While AB InBev will not initially put its sizable TV budget behind the brand, Cacti is expected to get major attention from the brewer’s massive distributor network, with significant in-store signage planned. The brand is a key plank of the brewer’s seltzer strategy in 2021, along with Bud Light Seltzer and the forthcoming Michelob Ultra Seltzer.
With Cacti, the brewer is trying to carve out space in the higher-alcohol segment of a seltzer category that is currently dominated by lighter brands such as White Claw and Truly that are suitable for day drinking. While White Claw has 5% alcohol-by-volume, Cacti checks in at 7%. (An average light beer is 4.2% ABV.)
Cacti is part of a burgeoning segment of the seltzer business, nicknamed “ranch water,” that takes flavor cues from tequila drinks rather than vodka sodas, like some of the original hard seltzers. These tequila/agave-themed seltzers are rooted in a popular cocktail in Texas that combines Topo Chico, tequila and lime.
Buchanan says Cacti is positioned for happy hours, or “anything with a slightly higher energy.”