Beer Marketing Legend Michael Roarty Dead at 84

Ad-Hall-of-Famer Oversaw Anheuser-Busch's "This Bud's For You" and Other Classic Campaigns

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Michael Roarty
Michael Roarty

Michael Roarty, the legendary beer marketer and Advertising Hall of Fame member who propelled Anheuser-Busch by overseeing such iconic campaigns as "This Bud's For You," has died.

Mr. Roarty, 84, suffered a heart attack Saturday at his home in a St. Louis suburb, the Associated Press reported. His tenure at the brewer lasted some four decades, beginning in Detroit where he sold Budweiser to taverns. He was VP-marketing from 1977 to 1990, when he oversaw classics such as "This Bud's For You," "Head for the Mountains of Busch" and "Gimme a Light" for Bud Light. He retired in 1994.

Mr. Roarty "left an indelible mark at both Anheuser-Busch and in advertising history," Paul Chibe, the brewer's VP-U.S. marketing, said in a statement. "He brought taste and elegance to beer with some of the most memorable marketing in any business of the time."

In 1994 Mr. Roarty was elected to the Advertising Hall of Fame, which notes that under his leadership A-B's market share grew to 44% from 22%, while sales more than doubled to 86 million barrels from 35 million. Mr. Roarty also left his mark on sports marketing, overseeing everything from race-car sponsorships to the Bud Bowl.

In addition to breakthrough advertising, Mr. Roarty's tenure featured glitzy, celebrity-filled distributor meetings in which the brewer pulled out all the stops, designed to underscore that it was "the biggest, most powerful brewer in the world," notes the 2011 book "Dethroning the King" by Julie MacIntosh. In 1988, for instance, Mr. Roarty co-emceed an event alongside Bob Hope and "a bevy of showgirls who paraded in front of a curtain of dangling gold beads."

"Celebrities were drawn to [Mr.] Roarty," said former A-B executive Joe Castellano in a tribute to his former colleague submitted to Ad Age. "And not simply because he had big advertising budgets he could use to buy their affection. He understood them, probably because he had much in common with them."

Mr. Castellano wrote that Frank Sinatra did a Michelob commercial [below] in the 1980s simply because Mr. Roarty "asked him to." Mr. Castellano said: "It was an exquisite presentation of the company's super-premium beer, with Sinatra's 'The Way You Look Tonight' amplifying that the 'Night Belongs to Michelob.' "

Mr. Roarty was "generous and wise to always deflect credit to August Busch III for the success the company enjoyed in sales and marketing," Mr. Castellano added. That includes a key move in 1979 when the brewer locked up the exclusive beer-advertising rights to upstart cable network ESPN.

At the time, ESPN was airing Australian Rules Football as its featured programming, "and was just happy to get someone's advertising dollars, and thrilled to get the imprimatur that came with the A-B endorsement," Mr. Castellano wrote.

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