Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Founded in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1860, Anheuser-Busch rose to become the largest brewing company in the world, largely because of the success of its flagship brand, Budweiser. But Budweiser’s sales began to slow in the late 1980s. Indeed, the three largest beer makers in the United States—Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Company, and Coors Brewing Company—realized with dismay that Americans were drinking less alcohol. Moreover, consumers aged 21 to 27—the key market for beer sales—were turning away from these three traditional breweries and were instead embracing the beers produced by smaller, often local microbreweries. In 1994 Anheuser-Busch responded to these challenges by firing its ad agency of 79 years, D’Arcy, Masius, Benton, & Bowles. Anheuser-Busch wanted to craft a new image for Budweiser that would appeal to younger consumers without alienating loyal Budweiser drinkers.
After hiring a new advertising agency, DDB Needham, Chicago, Anheuser-Busch launched its Budweiser ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign. The commercials featured animatronic (a form of animation) frogs who croaked out the brand’s name one syllable at a time: ‘‘Bud’’ -‘‘Weis’’ - ‘‘Er.’’ The original frog spot debuted during the 1995 Super Bowl and showed the amphibians on lily pads. At first it sounded as if the frogs were making nonsensical noises, but eventually the three distinct syllables came together to form the brand’s name. A neon Budweiser sign hung in the background. ‘‘Frogs II,’’ the second commercial in the campaign, showed the frogs waiting by the side of a road as they croaked out the brand’s name. As a Budweiser truck passed by, they latched onto the side with their tongues. ‘‘Frogs III,’’ which was first aired on ABC’s Monday Night Football, introduced a female frog. The commercial began with the male and female calling back and forth ‘‘Bud’’ and ‘‘Weis’’ respectively, as the male sought to hone in on the sultry female’s location. The ‘‘Er’’ was provided in a sort of chuckle by the male as he finds the female. ‘‘Frogs IV’’ took the amphibians to a snowstorm, where they continued to call out ‘‘Bud’’ -‘‘Weis’’ -‘‘Er’’ undeterred by the cold that froze their tongues.
Although Anheuser-Busch took strong criticism during the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign from groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who claimed the commercials were targeting children, the campaign was immensely popular. The commercials topped USA Today’s Ad Track, a poll that measured the popularity and effectiveness of ad campaigns. According to Advertising Age, the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign resulted in a tripling of the younger target group’s awareness of Budweiser. In 1997 Anheuser-Busch phased out the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign by introducing two lizards to replace the frogs. The company did not want to overexpose the concept. ‘‘We expect our advertising to stay ahead of the curve,’’ said August A. Busch IV, Anheuser-Busch’s vicepresident of marketing, in Advertising Age. During their run, the frogs had proved to be a great success for the company. They were able to effect a dramatic change in the way consumers, particularly the coveted young adult market, viewed Budweiser.

In 1860 a German immigrant named Eberhard Anheuser bought the Bavarian Brewery in St. Louis, Missouri. Four years later, his son-in-law, Adolphus Busch, began working there, and in 1876 the two introduced Budweiser Beer to the world. Renamed Anheuser-Busch in 1879, the company grew to become the largest brewer in the world. By 1986 Anheuser-Busch had brewed a billion barrels of beer.
Anheuser-Busch also had a long history of distinctive advertising. Pre-Prohibition ads sought to appeal to various ethnic groups and featured figures such as Otto Von Bismarck and the Scottish folk hero William Wallace. The famous Clydesdale horses, which became the company’s symbol, were first used to sell Budweiser in 1933. At their first public appearance they delivered Budweiser to the White House. In the 1940s and 1950s brewers strove to gentrify their products; Anheuser-Busch used the slogan ‘‘Beer Belongs’’ in ads picturing middle-class families sipping beer from Pilsner glasses. By the 1970s, however, beer ads were omnipresent on televised sports programs, and brewers began to ‘‘celebrate the traditional values of the American male: sports, camaraderie, and hard work,’’ according to the Wall Street Journal. In 1979 Anheuser-Busch’s long-time ad agency, D’Arcy, Masius, Benton, & Bowles, conceived of the ‘‘This Bud’s For You’’ campaign, which featured construction workers, lumberjacks, and laborers. These men were saluted ‘‘for being on the job and working hard all day long.’’ The company stayed with this advertising theme throughout the 1980s, often running ads portraying manly Bud drinkers surrounded by women in various states of undress. By 1994 Budweiser maintained a market share of 21.9 percent of all beer sales, but sales growth was flattening and Anheuser-Busch realized that a new marketing approach was needed.

As the nation’s largest brewery, Anheuser-Busch was hit hard by some shifts in American drinking habits and demographics. The number of 21- to 27- year-olds, historically the group who drank the most beer, fell by about 3 million between 1990 and 1998, from 27.6 to 24.6 million. Not only did this group consume more beer than others but they also formed their beer brand loyalty during this period of their lives. For the most part, what they learned to drink during these years was what they continued to drink throughout their lives. These ‘‘entry-level drinkers’’ of the 1990s were media-savvy and, according to the Sacramento Bee, ‘‘both highly brand conscious and notoriously lacking in brand loyalty.’’ Compounding these challenges was the fact that this segment of the population was increasingly turning to trendy microbreweries instead of the established giants such as Anheuser-Busch for their beer. These smaller breweries tended to produce darker, richer beers, sometimes with more exotic flavors that included essences of fruits and nuts. Anheuser-Busch crafted the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign specifically to appeal to this demographic group. According to the St. Louis Business Journal, ‘‘Budweiser needed to regain trends with 20-somethings to maintain and grow its total share. No normal Generation X campaign would work.’’ Nor would the company’s traditional marketing style. As the Wall Street Journal noted, ‘‘Anheuser-Busch was concerned that [its] image was getting stale, with its ads featuring scantily clad women and gritty blue-collar workers.’’ Although D’Arcy, Masius, Benton, & Bowles first developed the concept of the beer-hawking frogs, its was DDB Needham, Chicago, that brought the idea to its full fruition.
In order to recapture this group that avoided ‘‘drinking their father’s beer,’’ Anheuser-Busch wanted the Budweiser campaign to captivate its audience. The ‘‘Frogs’’ commercials were meant to entertain the viewer with a more ironic sense of humor. A Manhattan analyst told the Sacramento Bee that the ads had a ‘‘twisted, childish humor’’ that appealed to the under-30 set. The ads were intended to project a fresher, more youthful image, with a sensibility that was more modern than some of the older themes commonly perceived as sexist by the younger generation.
The resulting commercials were noticeably devoid of any ‘‘hard sell’’ tactics. For a generation raised on sitcoms and commercials, image was often an end in itself. ‘‘They look at advertising and marketing as almost a spectator sport,’’ a marketing analyst told the Sacramento Bee. The ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign also appealed to its target market because of its inclusiveness. Using animals as the new beer mascots allowed Anheuser-Busch to step away from earlier campaigns with their pervasive bikini-clad barflies and all-American tough guys that frequently offended women. As late as the 1970s, beer was characterized as a ‘‘20/80 product,’’ which meant that 20 percent of the population drank 80 percent of the beer. Women were not a part of that 20 percent. As time passed, women accounted for greater percentages of beer sales. Young men, however, still comprised the core of the beerdrinking market. The quirky ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign allowed Anheuser-Busch to ‘‘communicate with young men without offending women,’’ according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The ads could imbue Budweiser with an off-beat personality without risking going overboard. ‘‘Animals don’t focus on gender. Advertisers don’t have to worry if it’s a man or a woman or how the man or woman is behaving,’’ the Journal Sentinel noted. As the success of the amorous amphibians in ‘‘Frogs III’’ demonstrated, this campaign was also able to play on the traditionally sexist slant of beer advertising. Additionally, the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign enabled Anheuser-Busch to include minorities in its marketing message. Traditionally, beer advertising shunted minorities over to ‘‘malt liquor’’ products, such as Anheuser-Busch’s own King Cobra malt liquor, Michelob Malt, and Hurricane Malt Liquor. By 1996 Anheuser-Busch had begun to dedicate separate Budweiser ad campaigns featuring rap stars and R & B music to appeal to African American and Hispanic markets. Census data in the mid-1990s predicted that the number of African Americans and Hispanics would grow at a much greater rate than the white population and that combined the two minorities would represent nearly a quarter of the U.S. population by 2000. Given this information, Anheuser-Busch recognized the advantages of a campaign that did not turn away any potential consumers. As much as it needed to update Budweiser’s image for a new generation of beer drinkers, Anheuser-Busch and DDB Needham understood that the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign had to walk a fine line. In seeking out a new market, they could not alienate loyal Budweiser drinkers—those over the age of 30 for whom Budweiser was clearly the beer of choice. For this reason Anheuser-Busch continued to release other advertising targeting a more traditional audience at the same time that the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign was aired. For example, August Busch III, chairman of the company, appeared in one series of commercials that stressed Anheuser-Busch’s century-old heritage and its exacting standards of quality. But the St. Louis Business Journal found that Budweiser was such ‘‘an elite brand’’ and was ‘‘so well entrenched that [it could] step outside the traditional rules.’’

Anheuser-Busch was not the only large brewery to grasp the potential impact of shifting demographics and new marketing needs. In 1995 beer sales declined 1.5 percent, a figure that reflected a decade of stagnant beer sales. Budweiser’s most significant mainstream competitor, Miller Brewing Company, took note of Budweiser’s success in building a brand personality through quirky advertisements such as those in the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign. The advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy oversaw the marketing efforts for Miller Genuine Draft, the brand that competed most directly with Budweiser. Miller’s new campaign featured grainy black and white images of young people drinking beer and dancing. The scenes presented stylized images reminiscent of the early 1970s, and in fact one commercial borrowed heavily and deliberately from the classic film A Clockwork Orange. Under the tag line of ‘‘It’s Time to Drink Beer,’’ the Miller ads asserted the implicit ‘‘hipness’’ of drinking a ‘‘good oldfashioned macro-beer’’ (in the words of one of the commercials).
Miller intended its campaign to reach the same demographic target as Budweiser’s ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign. ‘‘The greatest opportunity to influence your business—the most evolving dynamic—is in the 21- to 30-year-old group,’’ a spokesperson for Miller told Beverage World. Like Anheuser-Busch, Miller recognized the need to reach out to previously neglected segments of the American beer-drinking market by designing spots that did not exclude women or minorities. As Tom Dudrek, a senior vice president ad the advertising agency Leo Burnett, told Crain’s Chicago Business News, ‘‘[Beer advertising] is not as Neanderthal. I don’t think you see the Swedish Bikini Team anymore.’’
In addition to facing competition from other largescale breweries, such as Coors, Stroh, Pabst, and Genesee, Budweiser was also losing business to smaller breweries that claimed to produce a higher-quality beer. These more expensive labels, including Samuel Adams and Pete’s Wicked Ale, could not hope to approximate the sheer volume of Budweiser’s sales. But the higher-end beers did appeal disproportionately to younger consumers, who liked the cache of these more elite brands. Even smaller regional breweries, such as Henry Weinhard of Portland, Oregon, developed strong local followings based on word-of-mouth reputation, not glitzy advertising campaigns. Anheuser-Busch was thus in danger of having its market share eroded from all sides.

Anheuser-Busch’s advertising blitz impressed its frogs deep into the consciousness of American consumers. In fact, a survey done by the Center for Alcohol Advertising, based in Berkeley, California, revealed that children between the ages of 9 and 11 years old could more readily identify the Bud frogs than other advertising icons such as Tony the Tiger and Smokey Bear (as well as the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers). Only Bugs Bunny was more recognizable to this age group than the frogs. Some commentators took this survey as evidence that Anheuser-Busch was targeting underage drinkers. Others, however, attributed this result simply to Budweiser’s heavy marketing. ‘‘If Tampax Tampons advertised as much as Budweiser, they’d have the same product recognition,’’ wrote columnist Tom Jackman in the Kansas City Star. Anheuser-Busch firmly denied that its ads were intended to encourage underage drinking and noted that it spent over $20 million per year to discourage alcohol and drug abuse.

Anheuser-Busch, however, could not rely on word-ofmouth to update Budweiser’s image as the ‘‘King of Beers.’’ Instead, the company pumped millions of dollars into a media blitz for its ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign. Although the company was unwilling to disclose how it allocated its nearly half billion dollar annual advertising budget among its various products, company publications termed the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign a ‘‘total advertising effort’’ encompassing radio, print, and television ads. The frogs also appeared on billboards, hats, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia. In addition, their biographies were recounted on Budweiser’s web site.
The most attention was devoted to the ‘‘Frogs’’ television commercials, however, because they could reach the greatest number of consumers. The ‘‘Frogs’’ spots each debuted during prime-time, ‘‘event’’ sports broadcasting. The first ad in the campaign premiered during the 1995 Super Bowl. The Super Bowl was generally the most-watched television program of the year, and this status has made it the launching pad for some of the highest-profile advertising campaigns in television history. In fact, the commercials have been known to eclipse the game itself in terms of stimulating viewer interest. Anheuser-Busch’s goal was to use this huge stage to create a ‘‘buzz’’ around the unique ‘‘Frogs’’ spot, which would in turn generate more attention for the Budweiser brand. When this approach proved successful, Anheuser-Busch decided to continue its launch strategy. ‘‘Frogs III’’ was introduced during ABC-TV’s popular Monday Night Football broadcast, while the fourth installment in the campaign debuted during the 1996 Super Bowl. Because the campaign was designed to change the image of the tremendously well-known product rather than introduce it to consumers, the ads did not contain a great deal of specific information about Budweiser. Instead, the commercials sought to create a hip status for the brand in order ‘‘to fashion a more positive consumer attitude to [the beer],’’ as Anheuser-Busch executive Robert Lachky told the Chicago Tribune. By using humor, entertainment, and sheer exposure, Anheuser-Busch strove to forge a more emotional connection with its target audience through the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign. The company also wanted to ensure that virtually every consumer in America would be exposed to its message. To achieve this end, Anheuser-Busch saturated the market with a barrage of television and radio spots, as well as billboards, print ads, and special promotions. The frogs’ ubiquity and immense popularity was a great boon to Budweiser (nearly 50 percent of consumers surveyed by USA Today’s Ad Track poll after the campaign’s debut said they like the ads ‘‘a lot’’—the highest mark recorded by the survey in 1995).

Anheuser-Busch executives declared the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign to be a success. Lachky told USA Today that ‘‘Budweiser was losing market share and the new ads helped to turn the brand around.’’ He further emphasized that the commercials were ‘‘especially popular among core 21- to 27-year-old consumers.’’ Industry analysts agreed with Anheuser-Busch’s assessments. Advertising Age asserted that the campaign tripled its targets’ awareness of the brand. Consumers seemed to concur. The ads topped USA Today ’s Ad Track poll for three months straight. Other USA Today surveys revealed that the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign appealed to viewers across income and age lines. The ads were well received in the advertising industry as well. The campaign won a slew of awards, including several Clio Awards and the prestigious Silver Lion Award at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Not everyone commended the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign, however. According to USA Today, elementary school children were quite familiar with the campaign and its famous frogs. Critics alleged that this demonstrated that these ‘‘critter’’ campaigns actually targeted children, thereby encouraging underage drinking (and building a future market for beer sales). Anheuser-Busch denied that the Budweiser ads were designed to draw in children. ‘‘Watching a beer ad does not cause a kid to drink,’’ Anheuser-Busch’s head of consumer awareness told the newspaper. Eventually Anheuser-Busch did end the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign—at least those ads that exclusively featured the frogs. Company officials denied that the decision was related in any way to pressure exerted by children’s interest groups. Instead, Anheuser-Busch stated that it did so in order to ensure that the campaign, and thus the image of the brand it supported, remained fresh and positive in consumers’ minds. In subsequent ads, two lizards with Brooklyn accents were introduced. Frank and Louie, as they were called, plotted to overthrow the frogs’ successful reign as Budweiser ‘‘spokesfrogs.’’

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