Monday, November 7, 2011

Bud Light Needs to Grow Up

As published in AdAge Oct 24, 2011

It’s time for Bud Light to grow up.  Which must be painfully obvious to Anheuser-Busch InBev and their new CMO, Paul Chibe, because they’ve asked a half dozen agencies to tell them how to fix a brand that for years has prided itself on “sophomoric humor,” an approach that finally, predictably, led to Bud Light’s first sales decline in 27 years, in 2009, a decline that continues to this day.

What took ‘em so long? would be a fair question.  Alas, better late than never.  Maybe.

With parent brand Budweiser’s eroding market share – from 25% to less than 9% today – another marketing travesty marked by a series of line extension and advertising missteps – Bud Light’s 2.5% decline in ’09 sparked some clumsy attempts to reconnect with their LDA – 24 yr old user base.  Trouble was, both their “Drinkability” and “Here We Go” campaigns were not only strategically flawed, but still mired in “sophomoric humor,” a kind of humor that ultimately held their target beer drinkers up to ridicule – not a great idea.  It’s like “dumb ass” was actually part of the brand’s defined personality. 

Thing is, there are some fundamental truths about beer advertising that I always thought were obvious, but apparently not, because Bud Light has violated all of them in recent years.  And if they’re to have a chance of re-establishing any relevance to today’s beer drinkers they’d be well advised to consider the following “New (Old) Rules,” I’ll call them, with apologies to Bill Maher …

New (Old) Rule:  to co-opt a political rejoinder, “It’s the strategy, stupid.”

Until last year’s Super Bowl, Bud Light’s advertising had insisted that it represented “Drinkability” – a word lifted right off of Budweiser’s label, proudly proclaiming for decades that Bud has “… a taste, a smoothness and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.”  Thing is, it was believable; it made total sense for Budweiser.  It made no sense for Bud Light.  So they changed it to “… just the right taste,” which is what every beer drinker in the entire world already thinks about his beer.


Once they figured out that “Drinkability” was at best a product “reason why,” and at worst irrelevant to the light beer category, Bud Light’s next and current campaign, “Here We Go,” was “intended to convey that Bud Light is a ‘catalyst for good times,’” according to Keith Levy, A-B’s then CMO (NY Times, Jan 26, 2010).  “When Bud Light shows up, the party is going to begin.”  Not exactly a strategic point of difference.  And somehow I don’t think partying carries the same gravitas as, say, hard work, or camaraderie, or even chilling on a beach – all of which represent relevant strategic territory beer brands have actually owned, successfully. 

They might as well have called that one “Here We Go, Again.”  Because first and foremost a beer strategy has to define a relevant, emotional connection to beer drinkers.  And it’s got to be more than … fun. Then something akin to a desired – and relevant - brand personality needs to describe the connective tissue.  And then justify it all with a viable product attribute or two. That’s the strategic equation.  In that order.  In other words …

New (Old) Rule:  Beer drinkers buy the image – not the ingredients.  Not even the taste. 

Mass market beer drinkers rationalize their choices – in focus groups - based on the ingredients, and its “quality,” or its brewing process, which they’ll even interpret as “taste,” but nobody makes real beer choices based on rational reasons. Maybe the craft beer drinkers do (nah, maybe not), but not real, regular human beer drinkers. 

So, above all, you have to connect with them emotionally.  Make a relevant, emotional connection, in the context of beer drinking.  The essence of beer drinking is guys hanging out in a bar, sucking down suds, thinking they’ve still got it, and can still get some if they wanted to, and knowing they’re in good company.

The essence.  The reality is most beer is consumed away from bars, a lot of it at home, with wives.  But home is boring in beer advertising.  So you try to capture some kind of emotional essence.

Everybody knows you can justify anything through focus groups.  You hear what you want to hear – especially if you’re looking for respondents to feed back an ingredients message.  Sure, they’ll tell you, they heard it, and yeah, it’s meaningful.  But they’re lying. They don’t care about product attributes; they’re only using them to rationalize an emotional decision. I mean, how many guys are actually going to admit they drink Budweiser because it reinforces their wannabe image of themselves, or their need for their friends to really really like them?

They must not care about taste, either.  A-B’s president, Dave Peacock, was quoted not too long ago saying, “(Budweiser) wins blind taste tests again and again.  It’s the perfect liquid.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug 20, 2010, “Can Budweiser, the King of Beers, reign again?”) Meanwhile the brand was tanking.  Which is exactly my point.  Taste is not the priority – as long as it tastes like beer and it has alcohol in it (“It’s all good beer,” A-B’s brew master used to say.  He knew).  If it was, Bud wouldn’t have dropped from a high of 26% market share in 1988 to 8.7% today (Beer Marketer’s Insights data).

New (Old) Rule:  Beer isn’t funny, or goofy.  Or sophomoric. 

Beer drinking ain’t funny, either.  It’s … reparative, irreverent, satisfying, thirst quenching, rewarding, all about bonding and camaraderie.  And hooking up.  It’s … cool.  A good time, too, for sure; fun, but … not funny, unless maybe you’re drunk. This was another major flaw in Bud Light’s “Drinkability” campaign and continues to be with “Here We Go:” they seemed to assume it was Bud Light’s “sophomoric humor” that had been lost, so they tried to recover it with “Here We Go.”  And guess what?  They did.  

There’s a fine line between being almost funny, or worse – goofy – and irreverent; between humoring yourself and connecting with the target.  If I don’t like the guys in your commercials, I ain’t drinking your beer.  The great DDB campaigns for Bud Light – Spuds McKenzie; “Yes, I am;” “I Love You, Man,” were not sophomoric and they were beyond funny:  they were irreverent, unexpected, wise guy attitudes that defied all sense of the expected.  They invited you to laugh with them, not at them, or at each other.  All of them expressing emotions and attitudes that beer drinkers could relate to, and did. 

Yeah, grab-ass beer drinkers drink Bud Light, too, and Budweiser. But only because they aspire to be something else, like genuine Bud drinkers.  Market to the real Bud/Bud Light drinkers - the mopes will come along, too.

With “Grab Some Buds,” from Anomaly, NY, Budweiser has climbed out of that same rut with relevant, engaging advertising that re-assumes the position of a one-time brand leader, driven by a strategy that says that “we’re all in this together, good times are coming, so grab some Bud’s, and some buddies, and let’s go for it!”  It’s giving beer drinkers credit for, you know, having their acts together, or something.   All of it reflected in the kinds of genuine beer-drinking occasions and beer drinkers we’d all like to be part of.  Reports are that it’s working. It’s gaining (re)consideration and likeability in several major markets, and if they stick with it they stand a damned good chance of regaining some lost ground.  At least they’ve re-assumed the position of a genuine brand leader.

And it took some growing up of their own.  Budweiser’s previous campaign, “It’s What We Do,” was both strategically and executionally flawed.  Bud’s problem wasn’t what they did; they’ve been brewing great beer since 1876 (and continuing to “win blind taste tests again and again,” according to Peacock). Nope - it was the brand’s disconnect with beer drinkers that was the problem.  Only some kind of dipshit would take the kind of “kidding” in dumb silence that you see in one of the “It’s What We Do” spots.   If some guy says to me, “Hey, I like your ‘stash, but where’d you dock your steamboat,” my answer is, “Yeah, and your girlfriend likes it, too.  In fact she’s outside in my steamboat, waiting for me to give her a ride.”

And what’s with the dorks in Bud Light’s “Clothing Drive?”  Is that supposed to be us beer guys up there on the screen, wandering around the office in our underwear with our flabby pink guts out in front of us?  If it is me, I’m not admitting it.  But it must reflect the essence of how Bud Light has seen their franchise, because they were running an extra-long version of it on their website.  

New (Old) Rule:  It’s about the beer drinker first.  Then the beer.

Connect with the beer drinker on an emotional level – his, not yours; get that right, then offer him your beer.  Relate to him, reach him, give him something to identify with.  To aspire to, even. The badge to wear.  Something … meaningful.  Something positive.

Beer drinkers aren’t morons.  Or dipshits.  They can spot bullshit a mile away.  You wouldn’t know that from Bud Light’s “sophomoric humor,” or even Budweiser’s “It’s What We Do” campaign.

Actually, in some kind of perverse way, Budweiser’s earlier advertising got the equation right:  they did put the beer drinker first.  Trouble is, they put him down.  Maybe I’m too sensitive, or too bald, but being reminded that we white boy bro’d our way thru some goofy man-greetings over the years just ain’t gonna win me over.  In life we should be able to laugh at ourselves.  It’s trickier in advertising.

New (Old) Rule:  All beer drinkers are not alike. 

Budweiser discovered this way back with the launch of “This Bud’s For You” (full disclosure:  I was instrumental in that campaign with D’Arcy, St. Louis, as a young account guy who ended up running that business for nearly ten years).  As successful as that campaign was, it was even more successful with its ground-breaking market segmentation: special, reinforcing marketing and advertising specifically targeted to young adults (as we called them back then), Blacks, Hispanics and even women.  Efforts that regained #1 shares in each of these segments with provocative, relevant messaging.

We went radical with young adults, creating special, targeted commercials for Saturday Night Live.  What we did not do was try to be young and cool and stupid to everybody.  We isolated that stuff for that segment.  But we defined it as “irreverent,” not “sophomoric.”  Big difference.

If Bud Light has become “my father’s beer” – the kiss of death in beer – then you’ve got to speak to their offspring, in their language.  In their environment.  To them.  But first of all, there’s no damned reason to walk away from us fathers.  We drink a lot of beer, too, plus we’ve got more money.  It may take something more radical to reach the LDA – 24 yr old beer drinkers, to shed the old guy image.  But don’t compromise it by trying to be that way with everybody.

What is the over-arching Bud Light platform that speaks to their heaviest beer drinkers?  And how can it be reinforced with segments critical to their success: LDA-24 yr olds, Hispanics and Blacks?

New (Old) Rule:  Assume the position of a brand leader.  Leaders lead, they don’t follow. Leaders set the standard, they don’t respond to lesser brands.  And they certainly don’t stoop to their level.  Leaders are proactive, not reactive.  Leaders innovate – not imitate.

Bud Light endures as the world’s largest selling beer – leaving parent brand Budweiser in its wake in 2001 - but Coors Light continues to gain on them and may even pass Bud sometime soon to become the world’s second largest selling beer.  Bud Light (like Budweiser) has tried to staunch the bleeding with me too line extensions (Bud Light Lime came on the heels of Miller’s earlier lime-flavored entry, Miller Chill; Bud Light Golden Wheat followed Miller’s test of and subsequent decision not to introduce a Miller Lite-branded wheat beer under its Brewer’s Collection.  And now there’s talk of a new Bud Light Platinum, with a higher alcohol content.

Thing is, it’s the primary Bud Light brand that’s the problem, and line extensions are only going to make it worse. It’s time they acted like the dominant light beer category leader.  Like the world’s largest selling beer.  It’s time for Bud Light to assume the position and reinvigorate a franchise that continues to erode at the edges.  It’s time for the brand to grow up.

Tim Arnold
Advertising Age
Oct 24, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dateline Iowa/Republican Party Update: Hoisted by its Own Petard.

Let me see if I've got this ... right:

Michelle Bachmann, who's beholden to evangelical Christians and whose beliefs stem from the dogma of Francis Schaeffer, who argued in his film series (“How Should We Live Then?”) that "Christians, and Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns" (and claims the US government controls all us citizens thru psychotropic drugs), whose husband runs a clinic based on "curing homosexuality thru prayer," (because gays, as she says, are "part of Satan") and whose position on our nation's economy would doom the US to bankruptcy (even S&P had to correct her assessment of their credit downgrading), all while she continues to benefit from government farm subsidies, triumphs in the Iowa straw poll over ...

Ron Paul – barely:  Paul landed less than a single percentage point behind Bachmann (although your wouldn’t know it from the conservative media’s instant anointment of Bachmann, Romney and Perry as the party’s “Top Tier Candidates”).  A perhaps surprising showing in this conservative state since many of his libertarian positions are, well, provocative: legalize marijuana; abolish income tax; allow Iran to have nukes (“everybody else does…”); pull the US out of the United Nations and NATO – and the Middle East; allow states to secede from the union; eliminate the Federal Reserve; eliminate legal tender laws and sales tax on gold and silver – heck, let the free market determine monetary standards.  Dr No has voted against virtually every initiative for government spending and new taxes in his 14 years as a Texas Congressman – more no’s than any other office holder.  All of which impressed Iowans enough to rank him the second most-desirable Republican candidate.  The American People – in Iowa – have spoken!  But who’s listening?

Willard Mitt Romney – who “didn’t participate” in the Ames Straw Poll, lest he have to explain his successful universal health care program for his home state (note: you can run – but you can’t hide), who showed up anyway and said, "hey, corporations are people, too, my friend," which is no surprise coming from him, given the millions major corporations have donated to his campaign, knowing he'll continue to support non-taxation of same. This includes Bain Capital, his former private equity firm, who has anonymously donated $1million to his campaign.  His resume now features his 20 yrs in the corporate world as more relevant than his minimal 4 yrs in political office.

Tim Pawlenty – TPaw - who once had the courage to stand up to W and Karl Rove over their attack of Iraq, and who has offered himself as a potential leader of the free world, picks up his toys and stomps out of the very first competition because he finishes a dismal 3rd.  And, like the rest of his fellow running mates, cowers to the Tea Baggers - whose financial platform will continue to cripple this nation, given Washington's refusal to stand up to these Nazi's.

Newt Gingrich – who, during his first week as a presidential candidate labeled fellow Republican Paul Ryan’s budget proposal “right-wing social engineering,” causing most of his fund raisers to flee, followed by all of his staff leadership soon after, and whose third wife obligated him to a $hundred thousand debt at Tiffany's - and who’s also willing to eviscerate Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and continue W's tax cuts on the wealthy.  All of which illustrates his arrogant hypocrisy.

Rick Santorum - who's slathering for extreme right-wing voter support exceeds even his competitors’, and leads him to equate gay marriage with incest, akin to "a father marrying his daughter."  Which not only is irrelevant but, as further evidenced by every single last one of his Republican running mates’ platforms and in addition to its pathological ignorance, has absolutely nothing to do with the genuine problems this nation is facing today.
Herman Cain – who cares?

And then there's Rick Perry, who proudly proclaims his father-in-law performed his vasectomy as a campaign point, who has totally confused separation of church and state with his keynote at the Texas Christian Prayer Rally – having already extended official state support to the Islamic community through his personal and official relationship with “His Highness” Prince Shah Karim A-Husayni, the Aga Khan IV, and the spiritual leader of the Shiite sect of Nizari Ismaili Muslims, whose 18 million strong believe he is a direct decendant of Muhammad.  Perry, who’s been described as W2, who allowed as how Texas should maybe secede from the United States of America, whose coffers are over stuffed with corporate millions of dollars, who's spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax payer's money on vacations and foreign "trade missions," whose state ranks at the very bottom in public education and whose claims about Texas’ financial strengths are a myth, who argues that the US has no constitutional right to mandate income tax and who's hypocritical madness could actually boost him beyond Bachmann as the Republican Tea Party candidate for US president.  Yeah, Perry’s got balls.  Which only proves it takes a hell of a lot more than that to qualify for President.

Oh, wait.  Sarah Palin showed up in Iowa, too.  When asked if the president was to blame for the nation's credit downgrading, she said "... yes.  Because from the top, leadership starts from the top, the leadership of our country."

Spoken like the true genius she is, another passenger on the Ship of Fools that is the Republican Tea Bagger party.

The Republican Party continues to demonstrate its utter lack of ideas, its sense of reality and its ability to accomplish anything constructive.  Drowning in its fear of the Tea Party, it is polluted with rabid political bias, consumed by a Nazi-like rage and driven by its single-minded myopia to get rid of Obama at any and all costs - all of which is tantamount to hoisting itself by its own petard, doomed to failure and guaranteed to extend the Democrats' hold on the White House.

Have a nice day.

Tim Arnold

15 August 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl Ads Work. Everytime. Almost. Maybe.

As published in Adweek, Feb 4, 2011

What is it about the Super Bowl, the most expensive venue in the entire advertising universe, that gives otherwise savvy marketers permission to act the fool, many of them, and offer up commercials that are somebody’s version of … funny, outrageous, cutting edge – and not much else? 

That last year compelled one-third of them to spend more than 10 per cent of their entire annual media budgets on this single event? (Kantar Media). That attracts eight to ten first time advertisers each year? (Kantar).

What is it?  It’s 100 million viewers whose responses to their commercials defy all conventional wisdom about what constitutes … “effective advertising.”   

Warning: this may confuse you …

First of all, chances are you can find a poll out there somewhere that will measure viewers who … “like” your commercial, or think it’s “funny,” because there’s a lot of them and they’re all over the place: last year USA Today’s Ad Meter buried Career Builder’s “Casual Fridays” spot – but had it their second funniest.  And Budweiser’s Clydesdale “New Friend” spot was one of Fox’s “10 Worst.”  No worries: it made USA’s Top Ten! Kellogg’s School of Management Review rated Bridgestone’s spots among the game’s worst?  Who cares? USA Today ranked them in their Top Ten.  And how’s this for clarity?  The Wall Street Journal’s poll shows Audi’s “Green Car” commercial voted the game’s best – and worst.

But none of these polls are remotely indicative of the potential impact of these commercials on the brands’ business.   And according to a study conducted by Millward Brown Optimor for the NFL, it doesn’t matter anyway.

Their study claims that, based on Nielsen sales data from “several dozen big game advertisers,” “(all) brands that advertise on the Super Bowl see an average sales uplift of more than 11 per cent in the following month.  This generates an ROI from Super Bowl ads 250 times greater than ROI from the average TV ad” (Joanna Seddon, CEO, Millward Brown Optimor; “Super Bowl, Super Score,” Adweek, Feb 8, 2010). 

On the other hand, according to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association’s 2010 Super Bowl Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, the amount viewers intend to spend on merchandise advertised in the Super Bowl has dropped more than 12% in the past two years ( Industry: “2010 Super Bowl Consumer Survey Results:  Shopping, Spending, Commercial Viewing”). 

So which is it?

There were 39 advertisers on the 2010 Super Bowl (Kantar Media) so Millward Brown’s sample of “several dozen advertisers” suggests they analyzed virtually all of them, good, bad or ugly.  And what this study seems to suggest is that the content of commercials that run on the Super Bowl damned near doesn’t matter.   They all averaged 11% sales growth over the next month.  In fact, adding “the tremendous brand building power of the Super Bowl itself … doubles the (ROI) returns.” Just run it, baby.  

On the other hand: “… a major brand that ranked No. 1 on the Ad Meter in a past year yielded an average ROI of below $1 while a different ad from the same brand ranked No. 20 and yielded an average ROI of almost $3” (Millward Brown).

I’m confused. 

According to a recent Nielsen poll (Nielsen Wire), “51% of Super Bowl television viewers expect the commercials to provide the best entertainment of the event.” Instinctively, these expectations have little direct relevance to real business.  And how could they? They’ve been nurtured through the years by the likes of commercials featuring flabby, hairy men in underwear (and what’s with that, anyway?  Bud Light, Career Builders, Dockers?), farting Clydesdales, crotch-biting dogs, been-there-done-that talking animals – including a chimp entertained by pseudo-farts from a whoopee cushion - and “too raw for TV” commercials.  Today 76.3% of Super Bowl viewers think commercials that run on the Big Game are, hey, “mainly about entertainment” (Annual Survey, RAMA, 2010). 

That’s entertainment?!?  Regardless, the Millward Brown study seems to be saying this is enough to generate significant “sales uplift.”  Farts and all.

Except sometimes it isn’t.

This was never more evident than in the 2000 “Dot Com” Bowl, when 17 emerging dot com companies ponied up in excess of $2m each of their investors’ money to run :30 commercials in the Super Bowl.  Seven of them were already out of business by the next Super Bowl.  But they were “funny,” or, better said, a “reflection of the marketer’s immaturity,” as one published financial analyst called them.  (Of course there were other variables, but still…).

The most recent version of a first time, “dotcom” Super Bowl advertiser that tried to be funny was FloTV’s commercial last year that urged “Jason” to “change out of that skirt,” and which showed up in Fox’s poll as one of the Super Bowl 2010’s 10 best.  They were out of business by October. 

The joke was apparently on them.

On the other hand … defied all dotcom odds when they ran their first-ever commercial on the 2005 Super Bowl.  Full disclosure: I produced this commercial (“Who’s Your Daddy?”, Adweek, Arts & Commerce, Feb 21, 2005) - which generated 5 million web hits in 48 hours and jumped their market share from 16% to 33% over the next few months. It was an outrageous commercial that arguably stayed on the right side of the line of good taste and political impropriety.  Viewers gave it mixed reviews.  But GoDaddy’s business went through the roof as a result of it.

Since then has aired even more questionable commercials on the Big Game, but their six-year investment in the Super Bowl has built its market share of domain registrations to 50% today.  They have succeeded in business despite failing to earn any kind of favorable viewer ratings for their Super Bowl efforts.  But they’re in the game – and this is apparently enough, according to the Millward Brown study.

On the other hand - here’s another major exception:  in the past decade Anheuser-Busch has spent $235 million on Super Bowl advertising (Kantar Media), far more than the second biggest spender, PepsiCo’s $170.8 million.  According to USA Today’s Ad Meter they won the highest rated commercial outright for ten straight years (1999 – 2008), with either Budweiser or Bud Light. They never had less than 3 of the top 10 “most liked” spots and more often had 6 or 7 of the top 10.  As late as 2009 and 2010 they placed 3 in the top 10.

Bud and Bud Light ran some 70 commercials in those 10 Super Bowls.  And yet, in that time frame Budweiser shrank from a 25% share of market to less than 10% today.  And Bud Light – after suffering declining growth for a few years, actually drops 2.5% in 2009, it’s first loss in its entire 27-yr history - a trend that continues.

So much for $235 million of “best liked” Super Bowl commercials… and yet once again Anheuser-Busch is slated to be one of the biggest spenders on this year’s Super Bowl.  After all, Millward Brown says “The brands that are guaranteed to see money back (itals mine) from a spot in the Super Bowl are established brands.”

Or, maybe not.

Here’s who ain’t confused: Fox.  They’ve sold out this year’s Super Bowl and stand to reap more than $200 million, with tens of millions more to affiliates for local advertising.  And now they’ve got this study from Millward Brown for the NFL that has armed them both with justification for imposing rising costs on advertisers who they know will not be able to resist the lure of 100 million viewers ready to be … entertained. 

And who can blame them?

On the other hand, one out of every five viewers think Super Bowl advertisers should not spend the money on the Super Bowl and instead, pass on the savings to their customers (RAMA Survey, 2010).  

But wait, they’re going to buy this advertised stuff anyway, aren’t they …?

Tim Arnold