Bud Light vs. Coors Light: Who Brewed the Best Media Strategy?

Optimedia's Antony Young Compares Summer Media Plans

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Antony Young
Antony Young
During the long days of summer, nothing beats a gathering of friends and family, the sound of steaks sizzling on the grill, the soulful sounds of Stevie Wonder beating in the background, and a nice cold beer to help take it all in. As summer peaks and temperatures begin to soar, the marketers of Bud Light and Coors Light duke it out for "share of cooler" with large-scale media campaigns.

Bud Light, the No. 1 beer brand in the country, with the largest share of volume, will place some $150 million in above-the-line media by summer's end. Coors Light, now the third-largest beer brand in the category and No. 2 in the light-beer segment after beating out Miller Lite last year, is looking for the right formula to edge up closer to its rival. We explored their media strategies.


5 stars Outstanding/innovative
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star A disaster

Communication strategies

To refresh its messaging and solidify its leadership position, Bud Light launched a branding effort in October 2008. The campaign brought a new tone to Bud Light's creative messaging: fewer punch-line-driven situations and more hard-selling tutorials on why light beers don't taste the same. The new tagline: "Bud Light -- the difference is drinkability."


In February 2009, Bud Light began weaving humor back into the creative, most notably in a Super Bowl XLIII spot starring Conan O'Brien. The next month, the branding was incorporated into the overall packaging as Bud Light launched new cans and bottles in bright blue.

Coors Light continues its "Rocky Mountain cold refreshment" branding established four years ago. In May 2009, it introduced a cold-activated can that turns completely blue at a temperature of 44 degrees. To promote the new can, Coors Light launched an intense marketing blitz that swept traditional media, outdoor, PR events, point-of-sale displays and online video.


Bud Light 4 and a half stars
Coors Light 3 stars

Bud Light has poured nearly 97% of its media budget this year into TV, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The TV budget was largely led through network TV, with 71% of its spending going to the Big Four, leading with CBS to support its Super Bowl placements, followed by NBC and then Fox.

Coors Light's TV budget was about half of Bud Light's, yet still totaled about $50 million up to the end of May. It placed 30% in cable vs. 12% of Bud Light's TV budget.


Football was clearly the priority for both brands, with heavy schedules in games coverage and related programming -- hence the heavy skews on CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN.

As has been the practice of Anheuser-Busch for as long as anyone can remember, the company booked five minutes in the Super Bowl, thereby locking in category exclusivity. Bud Light had four 30-second spots: Conan O'Brien, "Meeting," "Skier" and "Sphere of Summer," for Bud Light Lime. I have mixed feelings about A-B's overall Super Bowl strategy. On the one hand, Budweiser's advertising has become almost synonymous with the Super Bowl -- still the biggest deal on TV, with 130 million viewers. People look forward to and enjoy the spots, which make for water-cooler fodder for the week. On the other hand, the Super Bowl is also in the dead of winter, with minimal build up to the pre-game and some $27 million dollars spilled in just one afternoon. Could Anheuser-Busch achieve the same effect with maybe just five or six instead of eight to 10 units?

Coors Light -- unable to buy inside the Super Bowl, despite being the official sponsor of the NFL, due to A-B's category exclusivity -- bought into NBC, Fox and CBS regular-season football programming. The brand placed two-thirds of its cable buy on ESPN alone, a rare move that meant it would outspend Bud Light 2-to-1. In addition, Coors Light put a significant effort behind basketball, consisting of some 12% of its overall programming mix. TNT, Spike and FX got healthy spending as well. Bud Light's cable plan was anchored by ESPN, FX, TBS and Comedy Channel.

Coors Light launched the campaign for its new can on TV via a movie-trailer-spoofing ad on April 25 during ESPN's coverage of the NFL draft, in which Coors announced that "Cold Refreshment" would be "opening soon."

I like that Bud Light is very clear that TV is the cornerstone of its strategy, and has made some straightforward choices to enable it to dominate in network. The Super Bowl played to its strength of developing highly engaging creative.

Without the budget Bud Light enjoys, Coors Light prioritized alternative places where it could either access football or lead share of voice.

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Bud Light 3 and a half stars
Coors Light 4 stars

Bud Light Facebook
A number of interesting online innovations were served up by both advertisers. First, Bud Light created a video ad exclusively for the web of a guy who tries to buy a pornographic magazine. The content was too risque for mainstream media, which is why distributing it exclusively online was clearly a smart move. Setting aside political correctness, images of beer and naked women doesn't sound far off for a large proportion of legal-drinking-age men.

In addition, Bud Light secured branding in ESPN's "Zoom" game, which was available both online and through mobile apps. That leveraged an excellent ESPN user platform for the brand. Bud Light also took advantage of Facebook's brand-page applications as part of its "Drinkability" campaign. Users could send Bud Light gifts that would show up on friends' profiles.

By comparison, Coors Light used online as the main medium through which to tease the May 15 launch of its cold-activated cans. The centerpiece was a website that was meant to represent the National Glacier Tracking Center of the Storm Channel.

Coors Light glacier
The site also contained video news reports designed as local TV news and weather segments describing "record cold temperatures across the U.S." The content was also embedded in banner ads that ran on websites such as Weather.com and ESPN.com. In addition, the site contained maps and information on breakaway sections of a glacier from the Rockies that were being carried down rivers to major cities.

Both are clearly strong examples of online campaigns, but I scored Coors Light higher because its campaign seemed a much more central part of its overall launch strategy.


Bud Light 2 stars
Coors Light 4 stars

Coors has a number of major sponsorships, having taken over this year as official beer sponsor of Nascar -- a role Budweiser once held for 10 years. The deal was purportedly worth $20 million over the course of a five-year contract. As mentioned above, Coors is also a sponsor of the NFL. It appears to do a very good job of leveraging these big-time sponsorships at retail display and consumer promotions. It also targeted the African-American market with active sponsorships of the high-profile Essence Music Festival during the July 4 weekend in New Orleans, the BET Awards in June and Black Music Month, also in June.

Bud Light had tie-ups with less-high-profile sports leagues such as the NHL and the National Lacrosse League. It also became one of the first mainstream consumer brands to sponsor the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The Hispanic market

Bud Light 3 and a half stars
Coors Light 4 stars

Coors Light has a deliberate and deep program targeting Hispanic consumers. It placed 19% of its TV budget in Spanish-language TV vs. 12% for Bud Light. Through its sponsorship of the Puerto Rican Day parades in New York City and in Chicago in June, Coors Light maintained specifically targeted out-of-home campaigns for those markets.

Bud Light's "Drinkability" campaign was also heavily promoted to the Hispanic market, where it was branded "Tomabilidad" in all Spanish-language media.

Spot radio

Bud Light N/A
Coors Light 3 stars

Coors Light seemed to do a good job of moving beyond pure spot placement by leveraging radio to activate local event-based marketing activity. For example, it sponsored Chicago-based XRT's in promotion around the release of U2's new album, "No Line on the Horizon." For a month leading up to the launch, listeners could text for a chance to win tickets to an exclusive U2-hosted event, establishing a database of consumers for the station to reconnect with over time.

Mobile marketing

Bud Light 3 and a half stars
Coors Light 3 stars

Coors Light launched a mobile text campaign around its sponsorship of the NFL Draft. Football fans were able to opt in to receive some 31 draft alerts containing updates of each NFL team's pick in conjunction with Coors Light brand snippets.

Bud Light activated a specific mobile site through which users were able to download Bud Light wallpaper or a ring tone and view the Super Bowl TV commercials, as well as the magazine spot.

In summary

Bud Light 3 and a half stars
Coors Light 4 stars

Coors Light cold can

Bud Light and Coors Light are two premier brands that are seasoned in understanding who their consumers are and how to go after them. While Bud Light's media strategy is big and bold -- big budgets, big creative, shows with big ratings in high-quality environments -- Coors Light opted for a wider variety of media choices and did two really smart things. First, it kept its messaging consistently focused on the "Rocky Mountain cold refreshment" proposition, which enhanced the launch of the cold-activated cans. Second, Coors Light took it one step further by leveraging activations of both events and sponsorships through key media partnerships. This integration of a tactical approach combined with brand media allowed Coors Light to serve up the better strategy.

Antony Young is CEO of Optimedia U.S., a full-service media-planning and -buying agency headquartered in New York. He is author of Profitable Marketing Communications.
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