Anheuser Busch InBev has a new strategy for its struggling Lime-A-Rita franchise -- and it involves a lot more women.
The margarita-flavored malt beverage will become the first brand in the brewer's vast portfolio to be marketed almost exclusively to females. To get the job done, AB InBev has put the brand in the hands of a female-led marketing and agency team. That includes Selena Kalvaria, the brewer's senior director for Lime-A-Rita; and Melanie Hellenga, senior VP-group management director at FCB Chicago, which has been the lead creative agency on the brand since 2015. Also, new ads are directed by a female: Tricia Brock, of production company Hey Wonderful, whose directing credits include TV shows "Girls" and "Orange is the New Black."
"We thought if we are going to speak to women and to feel authentic, that women needed to be working on this brand in order to put that stake in the ground," Ms. Kalvaria said. Creating a female team became easier after the makeup of the brewer's marketing team changed when it relocated its sales and marketing office to New York City from St. Louis in 2015, she said, noting the marketing department is now 51% female. Also, nearly half of AB InBev's breweries across the U.S. are led by female brewmasters, including some who brew Lime-A-Rita.
The five-year-old Lime-A-Rita franchise, which includes flavor variants such as Mang-O-Rita and Straw-Ber-Rita, has already found a sweet spot with women. Ms. Kalvaria said 65% of the brand's drinkers are female. The goal of four new video ads is to grow the female affinity even more. The campaign is called "Make it a Margarita Moment" and features a woman narrating scenes of females socializing and over some Ritas. One ad (above) depicts a group of friends making fun of one of the "romantic face" of one of their boyfriends. Another spot shows one woman talking about a date with a Brazilian and another woman chiming in about a Brazillian of another kind.
The female push comes as brewers in recent years have made a concerted effort to move away from the fratboy marketing that once dominated beer marketing. Last year, for instance, MillerCoors launched what it called a "dual-gender" campaign for Coors Light called "Climb On" that puts men and women on equal footing. It came as the brewer sought to weed out sexism from all of its marketing. Gender roles are flattening out and "men and women want similar things from brands," Britt Dougherty, the brewer's VP of consumer insights and engagement, said at a private wholesalers meeting last year, according to a transcript.
AB InBev's new Rita ads are based on consumer research that involved spending time in the homes of female consumers. The brand zeroed in on a 30-year-old woman named Robyn from Chicago, spending two days with her to study her rituals and relationships, Ms. Kalvaria said. "What came out of it was actually a lot of inspiration for our creative," she said. "Margarita Moments" tries to tap into the insight that people who are drinking margaritas do so "in an anticipation of fun of a lot of laughter," she said. "It's inherently social. People do not drink margaritas alone."
Of course Ritas are not actually margaritas. They are margarita-inspired flavored malt beverages with notes of tequila flavor aimed replicating the real thing in a convenient fashion. The brand found quick success when it launched the brand in 2012. But to keep the momentum going, AB InBev had to continually pump new flavors into the franchise. Of late, the brand has fallen on harder times. Shipments fell 22.5% in 2016 as Rita's market share of the beer category dipped from 0.7% to 0.5%, according to figures from Beer Marketer's Insights.
All flavored malt beverage brands are having a rough start to 2017. Flavored malt beverage category volume in stores fell 4.4% in the year-to-date period ending Feb. 25, according to Nielsen data recently cited by Beer Marketer's Insights. The Ritas brand fell double digits, following two years of decline, the trade publication reported.
With its new female-friendly approach, the brand risks turning off male drinkers, who still comprise 35% of its drinkers. Asked about that, Ms. Kalvaria pointed to the brand's media strategy: The new ads will run on female-friendly TV and digital properties. Buys include Bravo, Food Network, E! and VH1. New product-focused spots (below) will target men and women. "Men will see the new flavors and the things that always made them interested in the brand," she said.
New varieties include Grape-A-Rita and Peach-A-Rita, which will be marketed as a summer seasonal. Select markets will also get Orange-A-Rita. The brand is also adding to its lower-alcohol line extension called Lime-A-Rita Splash with Pine-Apple-Rita Splash and the limited time Coco-Nut-Rita Splash.
As part of its female push, the brand is also rolling out a new package design that is inspired by pop art. To get ideas, the brand team visited the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. "The team found that the way Andy Warhol treated color in some of his work was something the Ritas could leverage," Ms. Kalvaria said.