Anheuser-Busch InBev will use the first of its eight Super Bowl ads to plug its revamped Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer brand with an ad starring two mermaids and a reference to ABC's "Shark Tank."
The 30-second ad by Bullish will be the first ad to run in the game in the so-called "1A" slot. It was released early today.
The underwater spot portrays the two mermaids, Bonnie and Vivian, as the brand's founders, pushing the sugar-free product to four sharks—the kind with fins, not Mark Cuban or Barbara Corcoran, entrepreneurs starring on the ABC show. The reference is notable because it's plugging an ABC show and the Super Bowl's on CBS.
Chelsea Phillips, who oversees the seltzer as part of her role as VP for "beyond beer" brands at AB InBev, says because the brewer considers the "Shark Tank" reference a spoof, it didn't have to coordinate with or get rights from the show.
AB InBev wants to use the Super Bowl's massive audience to boost awareness for the recently reformulated brand, which takes the sugar count from 5 grams of sugar to zero. The calorie count dropped from 140 to 90, while alcohol-by-volume fell from 6 percent to 4.5 percent—which feeds into the trend of drinkers being more careful about what they are consuming.
"The spot itself is not only a pitch to the investors, the sharks, but a pitch to the American public," Phillips says.
Beer industry veteran Nick Shields created the brand in 2012 as the first-ever spiked seltzer. It's made by fermenting sugar. AB InBev acquired it in 2016. Other hard seltzers flooded the market. And now Spiked Seltzer, while growing, ranks third in sales behind White Claw Hard Seltzer by Mark Anthony Brands, known for Mike's Hard Lemonade; and Truly Spiked & Sparkling by Sam Adams-maker Boston Beer Co.
Because Spiked Seltzer is synonymous with the generic category name, AB InBev recently renamed it Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer in an attempt to set it apart. Originally, the brewer wanted to use the French phrase bon vivant, translated to "one who lives well," Phillips says. It was changed to include "&" in an attempt to stress that the product has zero grams of sugar and tastes good, she says.
The brand has used mermaid imagery since the beginning. "At first we thought about Neptune [but] he seemed to be too aggressive," Shields, who is still involved with the brand, told Ad Age last year. "We wanted the look to be feminine and strong and a powerful mystical feature. So the mermaid, she fit."
With the Super Bowl ad, the brand was careful to avoid the sexualized interpretation of mermaids, Phillips says. "It has two females in a founder position and presented in a different way than we have ever seen alcohol present females characters before," she says. "The strength of these women is very important to me. As a female VP, I want to see more of that representation in this space, but I didn't want it to be a trope. I just wanted it to feel natural...versus more of an overt statement."