AB InBev’s creative renaissance began under Miguel Patricio, who held the global chief marketing officer job from 2012 to 2018 before departing to become CEO of Kraft Heinz in 2019, which like AB InBev has ties to Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital. Before Patricio, the brewing giant did not emphasize Cannes, as it continued to wow Wall Street analysts with its balance sheet. (The St. Louis-based U.S.-only predecessor to AB InBev, known as Anheuser-Busch, of course, had a history of breakthrough ads in previous decades.)
But the global company’s mindset began changing after its 2016 $107 billion takeover of SABMiller, creating what executives at the time called the "first truly global beer company." Simply put, there were fewer big regional brewers to gobble up, so AB InBev had to grow via brand-building.
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“After 2016 when we joined SABMiller, I think there was a realization that the growth formula had to change,” Pedro Earp, who succeeded Patrico as global CMO in 2018, said in an interview last week. Because “M&A wouldn’t be a major driver … anymore and we needed to really drive top-line growth”
“We looked at ourselves and said we do good work in marketing but it’s not outstanding creative work,” he added.
So Patrico, and later Earp, put in place several new initiatives meant to bolster creativity. That included DraftLine, an in-house digital agency the brewer launched in 2018 in Colombia and Mexico that has since grown to 12 global offices with 550 employees.
“The objective there was not at all to substitute for creative agencies but to infuse our core business with creativity,” Earp said. Previously, the brewer “saw that our business was to lead the business and creativity was outsourced to the creative agencies—but creativity applies everywhere.”
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DraftLine was behind AB InBev’s “Tienda Cerca,” a delivery service the brewer created for neighborhood shops in Latin America that suffered during COVID-19 for lack of an online presence. The platform involved a free online food and drink delivery platform that extended to some 400,000 corner stores. Cannes recognized the effort with a Grand Prix for Creative eCommerce in 2021.
The brewer’s other 2021 Grand Prix was in the PR category for its “Contract for Change” program created along with FCB for its Michelob Pure Gold organic brew. It involved a pledge to purchase crops from farmers during their three-year transition to organic farming.