Budweiser's famous Clydesdales will sit out the Super Bowl this year for the first time since 2001. The horses are getting the heave-ho in favor of a 60-second Bud-branded spot that touts Anheuser-Busch InBev's philanthropic water giveaway program. The canned water donation initiative is activated in the wake of natural disasters, like the hurricanes that ravaged Texas and Puerto Rico last year.
The Clydesdales will not totally be stuck in the barn, however. The brewer says they will be featured in a video that will debut next week on digital. Still, by sidelining the steeds, AB InBev risks backlash from viewers that have come to expect them to at least make cameos, if not take a starring role, on advertising's biggest stage.
AB InBev executives are banking on the digital film, which will be promoted on social media, to satisfy Clydesdale loyalists. "We have a lot of fans that are asking for the Clydesdales in social media every time we are in the Super Bowl," says Budweiser VP Ricardo Marques. "They are part of our Super Bowl plans, they will simply not be featured on [Super Bowl] Sunday."
To be sure, the Clydesdales have not always taken a starring role in Bud's Super Bowl ads. Last year they made a very brief appearance in a spot that told the tale of how German immigrant Adolphus Busch founded the company. The horses got a bigger role on social media when Bud showed a Facebook livestream of the Clydesdales hanging out in the barn during the game. It proved to be popular, drawing plenty of views and likes, but also comments like this one from one fan: "I miss you guys in the commercial this year!! Tell the experts we want you back darn it!!" In 2010, Bud's first-draft Super Bowl plans kept the Clydesdales out, but the brewer added them later after running a Facebook poll that revealed overwhelming support for the horses.
This year's TV ad, by David of Miami, features a real AB InBev employee who is portrayed springing into action and flipping the switch at an AB InBev brewery to convert it from canned Bud to canned water production. It ends with a shot of one of Bud's "America" branded cans turning into a water can carrying the AB InBev corporate logo. The message "whenever you need us, we'll stand by you" appears on screen, along with the names of some places where Bud has sent emergency water: Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California. The soundtrack is a remake of "Stand By Me," by Skylar Grey that was custom-made for the ad. A portion of proceeds from the single will be donated to the American Red Cross, which partners with the brewer on the water program.
The ad stars Kevin Fahrenkrog, general manager of the Cartersville, Georgia brewery from which AB InBev makes the canned water. This year the brewer is adding its Fort Collins, Colorado brewery to the program.
Bud has been running the water program for 30 years, and has given away 79 million cans in that time. But the brewer has never publicized the effort on a grand stage like the Super Bowl. AB InBev is also putting a do-gooder spin on a separate Super Bowl ad for Stella Artois that also involves water. The spot, starring Matt Damon, plugs the brewer's partnership with water.org, which invests in clean water initiatives for developing countries.
The spots come as more research suggests younger buyers gravitate to brands that they believe hold their values. Big corporations are especially under the microscope, with consumers ready to use social media to pounce on any misstep.
Still, by ignoring the actual beer in the widely watched Super Bowl ad, Budweiser could be missing an opportunity to spotlight the lager, which is in a long-running sales slump amid competition from craft brews, spirits and imports like Corona. Bud last year fell to fourth place in volume, getting passed by Miller Lite.
Bud execs are hoping the spot translates to some goodwill for Bud, and ultimately sales growth. Bud wants to "bring consumers closer to the brand and see the good and the great people that are behind this incredibly iconic brand," Marques says. He added that big brands can be "part of the solution. This is the type of thing that you can only do when you have the scale and the reach of a brand like Budweiser."
The separate digital video that includes the Clydesdales will run on TV in the days following the Super Bowl. Bud agencies VaynerMedia and Mosaic collaborated on the spot. Marques declined to reveal more details on the ad, but said it will keep the "This Bud's for You" tagline.
The Feb. 4 game marks the first Super Bowl in seven years that Anomaly has not handled Bud's ads. The brewer confirmed late last year that while Anomaly remains on its roster, mostly for global work, it put the Super Bowl out to bid to David, VaynerMedia and Mosaic.