How Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer is using ‘virtual influencers’ and a bitcoin giveaway to tout its ‘real’ credentials
It’s not often that brands run contests that reward people for pledging to not buy their products. But that is what Michelob Ultra is doing as part of a marketing stunt to bring attention to its new hard seltzer variety.
The Anheuser-Busch InBev brand says it will give away one Bitcoin, currently valued at about $58,000, to the winner of a social media sweepstakes. To enter, people must reply to a social media post from the brand on March 22 in which it will ask people to pledge not to try Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer. The posts will be made to look like the brand’s social feeds were hacked by supporters of artificial intelligence that, according to the fictional narrative put forth by the brand, are upset that Ultra is made using real, not artificial, ingredients.
It is all very much staged and very stunty—but the insight behind the effort is to seize on the rising conversation about all things virtual and artificial, including cryptocurrencies. Michelob Ultra cites data from Twitter showing that there has been a 52% increase in conversation around bitcoin year-over-year. There is also rising interest in so-called non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which are a type of digital certificate of authenticity for digital items like JPEGs and GIFs that have spawned a new collectables market, drawing brands like Taco Bell and Pizza Hut that are looking to capitalize on the craze.
Ultra is trying to juxtapose the interest in all things virtual with the ingredient makeup of its seltzer, which it promotes as having no carbs or added sugar and “no artificial aftertaste,” as well as USDA Organic certification.
“In a world we live in today, we live more and more on Zoom—with fake backgrounds, with VR and everything artificial. It kind of feels like progress comes at the expense of authenticity and what is real,” says Michelob Ultra VP of Marketing Ricardo Marques. “And definitely what we believe in is everything that is real is better.”
Marques describes the campaign as sparking a “virtual fun war with the artificial intelligence community.”
The campaign, which comes from the brewer’s in-house agency DraftLine, includes a TV ad that makes it look like the spot was hacked. The same approach will be made using podcast ads in a deal with Spotify.
The brewer even lined up several so-called artificial intelligence influencers to create content on their own social feeds that will spread an “anti-Ultra” message, according to the brand. These are not real people; they are among a rising crop of virtual characters, also known as virtual influencers, that are run by third parties. Ultra is using one character who goes by the name of Aliza Rexx and has 22,000 followers on Instagram.
Forrester in a report published late last year about marketing trends predicted that these virtual influencers would be increasingly deployed by brands as they look to “control their messaging and go viral simultaneously.” Examples include a computer-generated model named “Imma” that Ikea used in an installation at a Tokyo store to highlight the furniture maker's solutions for small-space living.
Ultra is using its virtual influencers as foils, rather than endorsers. The brand on its own Twitter has begun posting distorted images making it look like these influencers have already taken over.