Lowdown: First Reviews Are in on Bud Light's New Campaign

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The Lowdown is Ad Age's weekly look at news nuggets from across the world of marketing, including trends, campaign tidbits, executive comings and goings and more.

When the nation's largest beer brand changes its ad campaign, it's a big deal -- especially when the brand is in need of a comeback. So it's not surprising that the first spot from Bud Light's new "Famous Among Friends" campaign is already generating a range of reactions. Beer Business Daily Editor Harry Schuhmacher -- who is not afraid to call it as he sees it -- gushed on Monday to his readers that "it's the best work out of Bud Light since Bob Lachky handed over the reins of the Clydesdales," referring to the highly respected former chief creative officer who left the brewer in 2009. On Tuesday he followed up with anonymous feedback from a reader (the publication caters to beer wholesalers) who praised the ad for "calling itself out for being a sappy … bromance which is exactly the narrative we could all use these divisive days."

One beer distributor told Ad Age that the campaign "is much better than the last two campaigns, which were terrible," referring to last year's politically themed "Bud Light Party" effort and 2014/2015's "The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens" effort. But the distributor added: "I believe it has potential but am concerned it is generic. I'm not sure a brand can own friendship any more than it can own refreshment. I'm looking forward to seeing the spot they will show on the Super Bowl. I'm hopeful it will be indicative of a campaign that can build brand image and sell boxes."

MillerCoors, meanwhile, seized on the similarities it says the new Bud Light ad shares with their old "Miller Time" campaign for Miller Lite, which debuted in 2012 with the resurrected classic tagline. Ads tried to portray Lite as the beer good friends drink when they get together. This old Lite ad below shares some of the same traits as the new Bud Light spot. (MillerCoors has since moved on to a new campaign that plays up Lite's liquid and heritage credentials.)

In a statement to Ad Age, MillerCoors Chief Marketing Officer David Kroll said: "In 2012, we unsuccessfully aired similar work for Miller Lite called 'Brewed for Brotherhood' that failed on many levels. Our campaign said nothing about the beer, it dramatized cliché beer 'bro' bonding and drinkers found the spots confusing as the execution was dependent on audio for storytelling. It's work we've moved away from for good reason: We are excited to build purpose-led brands and let drinkers know more about the quality of our beer. While it's tough to predict the success of a campaign on one execution, we have been down this road before and would be surprised if the results were different."

Anheuser-Busch InBev declined to respond. Mr. Kroll's comments reflect a newly aggressive approach MillerCoors is taking against its rival, including criticizing Bud Light in advertising.

Now, onto some less confrontational tidbits -- like free stuff from the world's largest fast food marketer…

McDonald's gives away Big Mac Special Sauce for the first time in the U.S.
McDonald's gives away Big Mac Special Sauce for the first time in the U.S. Credit: McDonald's

McDonald's is giving away 10,000 bottles of its Big Mac special sauce this week. The giveaway happens at restaurants on Jan. 26. Some media outlets, including Ad Age, got their chilled bottles early. The giveaway ties into this month's nationwide introduction of the smaller Mac Jr. and larger Grand Mac burgers, set to be in restaurants through March 20, while supplies last. McDonald's has given out Big Mac special sauce in other countries before, but said this is the first bottle giveaway at home. And while 10,000 might sound like a lot, there aren't even enough for each of its 14,000 or so U.S. restaurants.

Meanwhile, other restaurants are upping their marketing games with, well, games.

Chipotle Credit: Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill this week introduced an online game called "Cado Crusher" in partnership with Super Bowl advertiser Avocados From Mexico. In the online game, players smash and blend ingredients to make guacamole. The payoff? A mobile offer for a free order of chips and guacamole at Chipotle, with the purchase of an entree. "This game provides a fun way for our customers to see the short list of quality ingredients that go into each and every batch of our scratch-made guacamole," Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer at Chipotle, said in a statement. Chipotle said to make its guacamole, each of its restaurants goes through about five cases of avocados a day.

Yahoo and Pizza Hut's Squares Pick'em
Yahoo and Pizza Hut's Squares Pick'em Credit: Yahoo

For Avocados From Mexico, the game is a chance to generate a little more buzz before its third consecutive appearance with a Super Bowl spot. This week's other restaurant game partnership announcement comes from Pizza Hut and Yahoo Fantasy Sports. They have teamed up for Squares Pick'em, a tech-savvy version of the squares betting boxes people often fill out for the Super Bowl. Just like real life, the numbers won't be displayed until squares are chosen. The game works similarly to Yahoo's other fantasy sports programs. Users invite friends to pick boxes on a 10x10 grid and set up their own leagues. Super Bowl Sunday is Pizza Hut's busiest day of the year. "The entire sports-viewing occasion has changed, with digital engagement being as much a part of it as the game itself, which is why we're excited to be part of the launch for this new digital game from Yahoo Sports," David Daniels, VP-advertising & media at Pizza Hut, said in a statement. Pizza Hut will be featured in display, search and email ads, while Yahoo will promote the program through blogs and NFL stories, Yahoo said.

Procter & Gamble Co. already has some cleaning brands advertising in the game -- Mr. Clean and Febreze -- but it's also spending a bit more to improve your bathroom experience during the Super Bowl. While people put plenty of thought and money into buying booze and snacks for the game, P&G believes they aren't spending enough time thinking about the bathroom. That's a shame, because P&G says that more U.S. toilets are flushed during halftime of the Super Bowl than any other time of the year, yet 62% of people say they're likely to forget buying bathroom supplies for the comfort of their party guests. To remedy that, Citizen Relations has launched a publicity and social-media effort around the #HalftimeBathroomBreak for Febreze and Charmin, the latter of which isn't buying an ad, but is the official toilet paper of the NFL and hitching a promotional ride with its sibling. To back the effort, Citizen has sent out what may be the first press kit ever to include a golden (painted) toilet seat, along with a roll of Charmin, Febreze products, and a Charmin-Febreze bobble head, among other things.

It's still not butter. But Unilever's I Can't Believe It's Not Butter has stopped dwelling so much on that, at least in the U.K. The brand has changed its name there to "I Can't Believe It's So Good … for Everything." This name change is not coming to the U.S., where the brand has its roots and a bigger business, a Unilever spokeswoman said. As for the reason it's doing this in the U.K., a Unilever brand manager told the Sun newspaper that it's about highlighting the spread's versatility for cooking. It's apparently not about shifting focus from not being butter, given that butter has been eroding sales of margarine for years.

Switch Fresh deodorant from Dwyane Wade's cousin Antoine Wade has refillable packaging.
Switch Fresh deodorant from Dwyane Wade's cousin Antoine Wade has refillable packaging. Credit: Switch Fresh

NBA star Dwyane Wade has been a pitchman for Unilever's Dove Men+Care, but now his cousin Antoine Wade is leaning on his support to launch a rival deodorant product with a unique twist -- refillable containers. Switch Fresh, which uses replaceable deodorant cartridges, is an "eco-friendly" design that's an alternative to what the brand says are the 800 deodorant packages an average person will throw away in a lifetime. The product was born from a brainstorming session with Dwyane, said Antoine, in a statement. For now, Unilever and other titans of deodorant probably have nothing to fear, as Switch Fresh is just starting out with an Indiegogo fundraising effort -- albeit backed by some cool product shots.

Shiseido Americas, the Japanese cosmetics company's U.S. subsidiary, has acquired Matchco, which produces mass-customized makeup. The patented technology lets consumers scan their skin tones through a mobile app, then uses the data collected to individually blend a matching, custom foundation for each person. The app was a winner of Apple's "Best New App" and "Best of November" awards at launch in 2015. The idea is to use the technology across the company's cosmetics portfolio. The Matchco team will remain in California, where it will also pitch in with product development and consumer insights for Shiseido.

European Wax Center
European Wax Center Credit: European Wax Center

European Wax Center is baring all with a new campaign, its first from Pereira & O'Dell New York, which won the Aventura, Fla.-based salon's business last year. The "Revealing You" campaign includes TV, radio, print and out-of-home, with photography from Miles Aldridge. The 13-year-old chain, which has over 628 locations, spent $5.4 million on measured media in 2015, according to Kantar Media.

Contributing: E.J. Schultz, Jack Neff, Jessica Wohl, Adrianne Pasquarelli

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