231-922-9460 | Google +

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bud to Strike Note of Pragmatism

As posted by: Wall Street Journal

One of the country's most irreverent advertisers, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is expected to serve up some Super Bowl ads this year that hit a different note, drilling home the quality of its beer.

Anheuser's Bud Light brand, whose ads are known for their slapstick humor, is adopting a more pragmatic approach in its ad lineup for the Feb. 1 big game. That mirrors shifts many other advertisers are making as they adapt to a hostile economy.

"For this Super Bowl, a lot of advertisers will stick with the hard-sell approach," says John Greening, an associate professor of advertising at Northwestern University, who used to work on Anheuser ads.

Anheuser-Busch's trademark Clydesdales are expected to appear in three different Super Bowl ads this year.

One Bud Light spot, which will use the brand's "drinkability" slogan, features two young men at a ski resort talking about how Bud Light is "easy to drink because it goes down smooth." But Anheuser won't give up entirely on trying to tickle viewers' funny bones. One of the men attempts to illustrate competing brands' alleged lack of smoothness by throwing painful obstacles in front a skier.

Another Bud Light spot features late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien agreeing to do a commercial that ostensibly will be aired only in Sweden. In the ad, he dons a disco-themed ensemble with a plunging neckline that reveals his chest hair.

Other Super Bowl advertisers are trotting out some humor as well. They include Pedigree, a dog-food brand owned by Mars, and E*Trade Financial. A new E*Trade ad will feature the company's talking baby.

The stakes are always high for Super Bowl advertisers because of the game's huge audience -- more than 90 million -- and the high price of ad time. But the troubled economy has ratcheted up the pressure to deliver this year. Marketers have shelled out as much as $3 million to run 30-seconds spots at the same time many companies are on cost-cutting binges.

Anheuser, the game's biggest advertiser, with 4½ minutes of ad time, is paying roughly $2 million per 30 seconds, says a person familiar with the matter. Anheuser is still formalizing its ad plans, and its lineup could change.

Branding experts say Bud's advertising will be put under the microscope this year. Anheuser recently completed a merger with InBev of Belgium, and consumers are expected to watch closely to see what effect, if any, the company's new ownership will have on its ads.

Those ads will work hard to remind consumers of Anheuser's heritage. For the first time, the company will air three ads that star the iconic Clydesdales that pull its vintage beer wagon.

In one spot, a Clydesdale is struck by Cupid's arrow, and in another one of the big horses plays a game of fetch. Yet another spot, which is still being crafted, show how the Clydesdales made their way to America and found their niche.

The Clydesdale image "reinforces our brand values and reinforces that we are not changing, and we are the same company," says Bob Lachky, Anheuser's chief creative officer.