Why beer marketing is suddenly full of fitness-themed ads and giveaways
Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors—which for years have battled for attention at bars—lately seem just as interested as luring drinkers from athletic fields and jogging trails.
The latest run at running drinkers comes from AB InBev’s Michelob Ultra, which promises to give consumers free beer if they submit proof of miles run, or evidence of other athletic pursuits, from yoga to bodybuilding. People ages 21 and up who upload selfies or their workout, or screenshots from a fitness app, will get a digital prepaid card of $5 that can be applied toward—what else?—an Ultra. To plug the program, called “Ultra Beer Run,” the brand is sending representatives to popular running spots in New York and Chicago to hand out brand swag and sign joggers up in the program.
The brand is plugging the initiative with an ad from Wieden+Kennedy New York that shows a woman treating herself with a beer after a sweaty run.
Ultra has long pushed the low-cal beer as a reward for athletic pursuits, dating back to the days when its ads featured cyclist Lance Armstrong living the “Ultra Life,” before his doping downfall. But in recent weeks, Ultra has been met on the jogging trail by Molson Coors, which has made fitness-related pitches a key part of its campaign for the new Coors Pure, a variety of brew marketed as USDA-certified organic.
Molson Coors debuted Pure last month with a marketing stunt that asked drinkers to go for a jog by following their own beer-shaped route. The brew gave away $15 prepaid Mastercards for anyone who submitted a screenshot of their route captured via a running app. The campaign was called “Beer Run,” similar to Ultra’s. That was followed up with ads that broke earlier this month from Droga5 that stars comedian Ali Wong as a talking beer can praising drinkers for engaging in common athletic pursuits such as going for a bike ride or a run.
The new fitness-inspired marketing from the nation’s two largest brewers uses the kind of work-reward tactic long deployed by beer brands. Remember the testosterone-fueled “Head for the Mountains of Busch” campaign from decades ago that showed steer-wrestling cowboys ending their day in a bar?
These days, brands have to be a lot more gender-neutral, and also feed into more modern pastimes, including jogging and yoga. Cowboys are out; cat-cow poses are in.
Balancing indulgence with wellness
Young people “are really balancing indulgence with health and wellness,” says Duane Stanford, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. “They are perfectly willing to go out and drink on a weekend night, and then really eat well the rest of the week. So they are banking their calories ... there is an opportunity for beer companies to say, ‘let me be the brand that you indulge with,’ but also we are going to give you a workable indulgence because we are going to cut the calories, cut the carbs and give you flavor.”
There is another trend behind the new beer campaigns—the need to meet people where they are: With bars still slowly reopening amid the pandemic, the running programs are a way to move experiential marketing out of indoor watering holes and into the outdoors.
“As the world begins to safely reopen, Michelob Ultra’s Beer Run looks forward to people being active together and rewarding them for doing so with a refreshing beer after a run or workout,” Ricardo Marques, VP of marketing for Ultra, said in a statement.
The new campaign has another aim—which is to pump AB InBev’s loyalty program. To get the prepaid $5 cards, participants must sign up at the brewer’s “MyCooler” app, which debuted in early 2020 and allows consumers to earn swag in exchange for consenting to having the brewer use personal information for electronic product and marketing targeting. The brewer has increasingly plugged the app in its marketing, including as a vehicle to enter Bud Light’s “Summery Stimmy,” which gives away some $10 million with of prizes, including sports tickets.
The brewer is among a host of marketers putting more emphasis on these types of loyalty programs in preparation for a cookie-less future in which first-party data is becoming more important.
Alissa Heinerscheid, VP of direct-to-consumer marketing for AB InBev, in a statement to Ad Age said MyCooler was “built around the insight that consumers are looking to engage with content, merchandise, and e-commerce across our full portfolio of brands. Through the program, we are building deep connections between consumers and our brands by offering personalized content and unique, compelling experiences and merchandise.”