As the global operators of A-B InBev and SABMiller work to finalize a massive merger agreement, their top U.S. brand leaders have a more immediate goal: Reclaiming sales momentum from scrappy craft brewers and aggressive spirit brands. And as they search for growth, marketing execs will lean heavily on fresh advertising by newly assigned creative agencies.
In the coming months, the brewers will roll out major marketing changes for the nation's two largest beers, Bud Light and Coors Light, that will likely hit the market long before the merger (if finalized and approved by regulators) closes. Both brands have experienced steady declines in recent years. Bud Light's U.S. market share fell from 19% in 2010 to 17.5% last year and Coors Light dropped from 8.5% to 8.2%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.
Meanwhile, Heineken USA is gaining some marketing control from its global headquarters in Amsterdam. The domestic division plans to roll out a U.S.-only campaign for flagship Heineken, which in recent years had adopted larger global efforts. The Dutch brew, which is the nation's third-largest import behind fast-rising Mexican beers Corona and Modelo Especial, has not been immune to U.S. marketplace challenges; its market share slipped from 1.9% in 2013 to 1.8% last year, according to Beer Marketer's.
Bud Light ages up
Of the three brands, A-B InBev-owned Bud Light might be prepping the biggest change.
The brewer plans to scrap its nearly two-year-old, millennial-focused "The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens," campaign for an approach targeting a broader age group. "Up For Whatever" is "trying too hard" to appeal to young adult drinkers, Jorn Socquet, U.S. VP-marketing for A-B InBev, said this week in an interview from Las Vegas where he was attending the annual meeting of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. "Bud Light as a brand appeals to everybody. And everybody who is young at heart should be attracted to Bud Light, not just [young adults]," he said.
The campaign is being developed by Wieden & Kennedy, New York, which took over Bud Light in July from BBDO, New York. While Mr. Socquet declined to reveal details, he said the campaign would include celebrities -- which he did not name -- and would break as early as December or as late as during the Super Bowl in February.
The brewer is the exclusive beer advertiser for the game. Mr. Socquet suggested that the brewer's Super Bowl ad lineup would go far beyond Bud and Bud Light, which have consumed all the brewer's buy for the past two Super Bowls. Shock Top will get one ad, the brewer recently confirmed. And the brewer might not stop there, with brands such as Michelob Ultra — which is handled by FCB, Chicago — in contention. Budweiser, which is run by Anomaly, New York, will return to the game, but Mr. Socquet declined to say if the King Of Beers will be paired with puppies and Clydesdales as in recent years.
"Every agency knows what we are expecting them to deliver and the best work will get the Super Bowl spots," he said.
Packaging changes coming
Bud Light's "Up for Whatever" campaign broke during the 2014 Super Bowl. It was developed before Mr. Socquet arrived in early 2014 and was built around a strategy of linking the brand to spontaneous fun. A 2015 Super Bowl spot featured a young adult drinker who orders a beer labeled "the perfect beer for stepping outside for some old-school fun" before being led to play a life-sized Pac Man game.