AB InBev Puts More Marketing Muscle Behind Blue-Collar Busch

'Heroes' Campaign Celebrates 'Working Man'

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After heading for the mountains for decades and going fishing last year, Busch beer is trying to get real in 2014 as Anheuser-Busch InBev pours more money into the economy brand.

The investment starts with a new campaign that spotlights real people who "work hard at their jobs and in their communities," according to the brewer. The effort, called "Busch Heroes," comes as the beer industry at large is boosting marketing investment in economy brands, which have gotten less attention during the craft-beer boom.

As Ad Age documented last year, MillerCoors and A-B InBev had significantly curtailed measured media spending in recent years on the "sub-premium" segment as they sought fatter profit margins by encouraging drinkers to trade up to new, pricier brews such as Bud Light Platinum and Redd's Apple Ale. While new products are still getting plenty of attention -- along with crafts -- brewing executives have begun to acknowledge that they need to start paying more attention to their cheaper, older brands.

Most loyal
Blue-collar consumers are the "most loyal drinkers of beer," MillerCoors CEO Tom Long said during the panel discussion late last year at the National Beer Wholesalers annual meeting. "Nobody has been showing the economy drinker enough love," he added. MillerCoors is planning to pour more money behind Keystone Light and Miller High Life, including returning the brews to national TV advertising this year.

Last year, Busch ran most of its advertising during the spring season that was timed to fishing promotions including special "fishing lure" cans and a partnership with star angler Kevin VanDam. But this year, the brand will run more ads year-round, even as it continues its fishing promotions. "We ran our models which indicate that the business is going to respond with incremental investment, and that is why we are putting incremental money in it," said Edison Yu, VP-value brands at A-B InBev.

The brewer spent only $2.1 in measured media on Busch in 2012, according to the latest full-year data available from Kantar Media (full-year figures for 2013 are not yet available. Mr. Yu declined to give details on the 2014 budget increase.

The Busch Heroes campaign features the stories of eight men and women, including a tugboat deckhand from Washington, a cattle rancher from Texas and a logger from Michigan. The agency is 72andSunny.

Media buys include Sporting News and CBS Interactive. Initially the buys will be limited to digital (including videos), print and out-of-home. Mr. Mr. Yu did not rule out TV, saying the brewer is "continuing to evaluate" its media buy. The last time Busch ran TV ads was in 2011, Mr. Yu said.

The Heroes campaign, which includes the tagline "Here's to Earning It," continues a long tradition of beer ads playing off of a work-reward theme. Busch had long used the technique with its "Head for the Mountains" campaign, which ran for years beginning in the late 1970s, featuring the deep voice of country star Hoyt Axton.

"Busch was the cowboy's reward after a hard day's work," Bob Lachky, the brewer's former chief creative officer, recalled in an email interview. "The direction of August Busch III was to have Busch beer use U.S. Western iconography," he added, referring to the brewer's former chairman. "I heard August say more than once that he wanted Busch's imagery to reflect the Marlboro Man."

"Head for the Mountains" was halted a couple years ago.

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