Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Anheuser-Busch Companies, the largest beer maker in the world, introduced Bud Light to its product line in 1982. In those days the light beer market was relatively young and was dominated by Miller Lite, a beer made by Anheuser-Busch’s main competitor, the Miller Brewing Company. ‘‘Light’’ beers are so named because they contain fewer calories (and less alcohol) than ‘‘regular’’ beer. To create a market niche for its new product, Anheuser-Busch relied heavily on creative advertising campaigns to generate consumer awareness about its new brand and to alter the perception that Miller Lite was the only reduced-calorie beer available on the market. This approach proved to be quite successful, and Bud Light steadily gained in sales and market share at the expense of Miller Lite. By 1993 Bud Light had overtaken Miller Lite to become the best-selling light beer in the United States.
In the mid-1990s, however, the entire beer market had begun to slump as American alcohol consumption declined overall. Moreover, demographic trends indicated a decrease in the number of consumers between the ages of 21 and 30, the prime beer-drinking years. Bud Light was particularly affected by this decline. It lost its number-one position in the light beer market back to Miller Lite and struggled to create an advertising campaign that could reinvigorate its sales figures. To halt this decline, Anheuser-Busch turned to the DDB Needham advertising agency, the shop that had created the initial Bud Light campaign in 1982 that launched the brand to prominence.
DDB Needham sought to craft a campaign that would appeal to a generation of young men raised on sitcoms and commercials but that would also not alienate either older drinkers or women, who might prefer a light beer because of its lower calorie count. The ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ campaign, which debuted in 1995, was designed to serve these multiple goals. The first spot of the campaign featured ‘‘Johnny,’’ a scruffylooking man in his mid- to late thirties fishing off the end of a pier with his father and brother. Saucer-eyed, Johnny looks over to his father and says, in a voice redolent with emotion, ‘‘Dad. Well, you’re my dad. And I love you, man.’’ His father eyes him coolly and responds, ‘‘You’re not getting my Bud Light, Johnny.’’ Subsequent commercials showed Johnny pulling similar faux-sincere beer scams on his brother and girlfriend, always without success.
Anheuser-Busch ran the commercials heavily during major sporting events, including Major League Baseball’s World Series and the Super Bowl, generally the highest-rated television broadcast of the year. Marketing surveys revealed the campaign’s popularity. A poll conducted for USA Today by the Louis Harris Company revealed that 34 percent of those surveyed liked the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ spots ‘‘a lot,’’ which compared quite favorably with the 23 percent average for other commercials rated. As the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ tag line insinuated its way into popular culture (actor Rob Fitzgerald, who played Johnny, appeared on David Letterman’s latenight show), Anheuser-Busch sought to expand the campaign’s appeal. Fitzgerald was featured in profiles in People magazine and USA Today, and DDB Needham strove to develop new scenarios in which Johnny could beg for Bud Light. The fourth and final ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ commercial debuted during the 1996 Super Bowl and featured actor Charlton Heston. In it Johnny crashes a Hollywood party and meets the Bud Light-drinking Heston, who is perhaps best known for his roles as Moses and in the movie Planet of the Apes. Heston coaches Johnny on how to say the famous line but remains immune when Johnny turns the appeal on him. ‘‘Since the viewers already know the punch line, we needed to take Johnny’s character someplace bigger,’’ campaign creator David Merhar told Life magazine. ‘‘Everything leading up to the line had to be the funny part.’’
The campaign was a resounding success. Bud Light sales rose 12 percent while the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ commercials ran, recapturing the number one slot in the light beer market and rising to become the second best-selling beer in the United States, behind only Anheuser-Busch’s flagship brand Budweiser. Wary of overexposing the premise, Anheuser-Busch quietly ended the campaign in 1997.

When Anheuser-Busch brought out Bud Light in 1982, the light beer market was dominated by Anheuser-Busch’s closest competitor, the Miller Brewing Company, and its Miller Lite beer. Miller’s advertising campaign, featuring famous retired athletes and other well-known personalities debating whether Miller Lite was a superior beer because it tasted great or because it was less filling, established the brand as a major feature of the beer landscape. Miller Lite’s success demonstrated the impact a popular advertising campaign could have on sales volume in the highly competitive beer market and the growth potential for light beers in general. Anheuser-Busch wanted to tap into this growing market with Bud Light.
Anheuser-Busch’s first ad campaign in support of its new offering focused on generating name recognition for the brand and altering the consumer’s assumption that light beer meant Miller Lite. This television campaign presented various people walking into bars and saying ‘‘Gimme a light.’’ In response, they were offered items ranging from neon signs to dogs jumping through flaming hoops to blowtorches. ‘‘No,’’ the surprised consumers would respond, ‘‘Bud Light.’’ The humorous ads were quite successful, and Bud Light gradually began to erode Miller Lite’s commanding share of the market.
Bud Light’s advertising success continued with the 1987 launch of its Spuds McKenzie campaign. This series, featuring a bull terrier dubbed ‘‘the original party animal,’’ followed the exploits of this ladies’ hound as he celebrated life and Bud Light in the company of skimpily dressed women. Boosted by the popularity of this campaign (which generated an entire subindustry of Spuds paraphernalia, including tee shirts and hats), Bud Light sales continued to climb. However, the Spuds ads also drew heavy criticism from parents and anti-alcohol groups concerned that the use of the endearing canine was intended to appeal to children under the legal drinking age. Anheuser-Busch adamantly denied any intent to target people under age 21, but the company also responded by recasting Spuds as a youthful executive striving to spread a message encouraging responsible drinking. This shift did not placate the critics, and the campaign was discontinued in 1989. Anheuser-Busch rejected the notion that the Spuds ads were eliminated because of outside pressure. But as a senior executive at DDB Needham, the agency that created the ads, told the Wall Street Journal, ‘‘You have to pay attention to what’s being said. If you don’t, the heat gets hotter.’’ Bud Light’s strong growth continued through the early 1990s. By 1993, Bud Light had overtaken Miller Lite as the best-selling light beer in the United States. Moreover, the light beer market as a whole continued to expand. ‘‘Unlike the diet segment in soft drinks,’’ Beverage Marketing Corporation chairman Michael Bellas said in Beverage World, ‘‘the light category is a significant [part of the entire beer market,]’’ rather than just a small subcategory of its own. By 1997 three of the five best-selling beers in America were light beers: Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light.
Bud Light could not afford to rest on its laurels, however. While light beer’s share of the beer industry grew, total beer sales volume flattened throughout the early and mid-1990s. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, this stagnation could be attributed to ‘‘the changing tastes of baby boomers . . . and lack of enough 21 year olds to take their place.’’ Bud Light was hit particularly hard in the mid-1990s, ceding its newly acquired primacy back to Miller Lite.

Anheuser-Busch targeted its Bud Light advertising predominantly to the 21 to 30-year-old market. Twentysomethings consumed more beer than people in any other age bracket. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, ‘‘Beer consumption declines with age. The biggest drop occurs when a person reaches 34, [but] with a majority of the population over 30, the [beer] industry has reached a glass ceiling.’’ Moreover, drinkers in their twenties were more liable to form their lifelong brand preferences during this decade of their lives. A spokesman for Miller Brewing Company concluded in Beverage World that ‘‘the most evolving dynamic is the 21- to 30-year group . . . . It would take a lot of pounding away to try to accomplish a [brand] switch [after that].’’ Although not wanting to ignore older consumers, especially the increasingly health-conscious baby boomers who might be more drawn to a lower-calorie beer, the company recognized the significance of the youth market. ‘‘Marketing, and 21- to 30-year-old men’s receptivity to it, is absolutely critical to a beer brand’s success,’’ Budweiser’s vice president of brand management Bob Lachky told the Dallas Morning News. DDB Needham attempted to reach this market by crafting ads that were irreverent and entertaining. This approach was a necessary one to reach this audience. As Mark Johnson, director of brand management for Miller Lite told the Sacramento Bee, ‘‘This is a savvy audience. They started shopping earlier, they’ve had candy marketed to them, they’ve had Channel One in their classrooms. They’ve been there, they’ve done that, they’ve bought the t-shirt.’’As Anheuser-Busch learned from its ‘‘Gimme a Light’’ campaign, humor was a very effective way of reaching its preferred audience. However, the sort of humor employed was quite significant. The company could not afford to alienate potential customers—particularly women, who were often ignored in traditional beer advertising. Jim Schumacker, a vice president of Bud Light marketing, recognized the challenge posed by creating Bud Light promotional spots in USA Today:
‘‘Bud Light advertising is more difficult to create than Budweiser’s because Light’s customers are more diverse . . . . That means ads must appeal to both sexes.’’ Anheuser-Busch had received a great deal of criticism for the sexism implicit in the Spuds McKenzie campaign. After an outcry from women (who were drinking more beer with each passing year of the 1980s and 1990s) and even from trade such publications as Ad Age (which in 1993 condemned most beer ads for using women to ‘‘represent sexual imagery and nothing else’’), Anheuser-Busch recognized a need for care in its selection of promotional messages. ‘‘Treating women as objects is not in tune with today’s markets,’’ Lachky told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ campaign sought to appeal to its target audience by tweaking on a familiar cultural trope. The opening scenes of emotional bonding were designed ‘‘to pull people in like a Hallmark card,’’ David Merhar, the DDB Needham creative executive who devised the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ concept, explained to the Wall Street Journal. Media-literate 20-somethings were quick to grasp the reference and adored the concluding twist where the smarmy appeal for Bud Light was resoundingly rebuffed. In fact, the spots were so popular among their chosen demographic that ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ became a cultural catchphrase, being recited on talk shows, comedy routines, and even casually among beer drinkers. ‘‘I have definitely said ‘I love you, man’ to my friends,’’ reported one consumer interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Bud Light’s main competitors in the light beer market were Coors Light, made by the Adolph Coors Company, which was the third-largest brewer in the United States, and Miller Lite. Although Coors Light’s sales were good (revenue generated by the brand surpassed the Coors Company’s flagship brand Original Coors in 1987 and increased every year for the next decade), Bud Light had its sights set squarely on surpassing Miller Lite. In 1990 Bud Light controlled 19 percent of the light beer market, while Miller Lite retained a strong 33 percent. Three years later Bud Light surpassed Miller Lite as the best-selling light beer in America, as its light beer market share rose to 30 percent while Miller Lite’s dropped to 22 percent. This lead was short lived, however, as Miller Lite rebounded to first place during a period in which sales volumes for both competitors decreased. But the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ campaign elevated Bud light sales and restored the Anheuser-Busch brand to primacy, frustrating the Miller Brewing Company so much that it pulled its advertising account from the Leo Burnett agency in December 1996 and gave it to the Minneapolis-based Fallon McElligot firm.
Fallon McElligot recognized the necessity of appealing to the under-30 market and devised offbeat anti-ads attributed to the fictional account executive superstar ‘‘Dick.’’ These ‘‘Ads by Dick’’ had an ironic sensibility designed to reach the younger target market. Early spots in the campaign were introduced by a 1970s-style year book picture displayed on the screen, while the voiceover declared: ‘‘This is Dick. Dick is a creative superstar and the man behind the advertising you are about to witness. We gave Dick a six-pack of Miller Lite and some money and asked him to come up with a commercial for Miller Lite.’’ This inside-jokey style continued throughout the ads. One of the first of the more than 50 ‘‘Ads by Dick’’ Fallon McElligot produced showed a group of Lite-drinking cowboys slowly sauntering into the men’s room of their rustic bar to the strains of ‘‘Adios Amigos.’’ Another portrayed a rancher trading a truckload of Miller Lite to a turncoat steer in exchange for information about a planned stampede. In a third spot, a group of professional wrestlers were shown faking their moves in the ring. Later, they adjourned to a bar where they poured their cans of Miller Lite right past their mouths without making contact.
Miller Brewing Company hoped the new ad campaign would reinvigorate its flagging sales and increase the favorable impression of its brand among consumers. ‘‘We wanted to redefine the brand and do it quickly,’’ Mike Johnson, Miller Lite’s brand director told Adweek. ‘‘We wanted something that would shake up the system to say it’s not the same old Miller Lite.’’ To ensure its message reached the widest possible distribution, Miller tripled its advertising budget to support the ‘‘Ads by Dick’’ campaign, spending $38.7 million dollars during the first quarter of 1997 alone, nearly 70 percent of Miller Brewing Company’s total beer advertising budget. The campaign proved successful, as Miller Lite’s sales in supermarkets rose 13 percent and total sales rose 1.7 percent overall in 1997. ‘‘Awareness of the brand is high, recall is high, and sales are up,’’ Johnson said. The popularity of the campaign forced Anheuser-Busch to increase its own advertising budget to retain its lead in the market.

Anheuser-Busch employed its tried-and-true strategy of high-profile athletic event advertising for the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ campaign. The commercials ran during major sporting events, such as the National Basketball Association’s playoffs and telecasts and Major League Baseball’s World Series. They appeared during regularseason broadcasts as well. The Charlton Heston ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ commercial debuted during the 1996 Super Bowl.
At least as important as placement, however, was the tone Anheuser-Busch sought to strike in the ads. By using humor and an absence of sexual messaging, the company was able to avoid alienating potential consumers who did not happen to be men between the ages of 21 and 30. But by making the commercials entertaining and ironic, Anheuser-Busch was still able to play directly to the sensibilities of its desired audience. As Beverage World noted, ‘‘[Generation] X-ers also appreciate marketing with a sense of humor. Bud Light’s ‘I love you, man’ commercials offer an astute marketing approach to Generation X-ers.’’
Once Anheuser-Busch recognized the popularity of the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ campaign, it strove to expand on it, pushing the campaign beyond traditional advertising formats. ‘‘The question became, ‘How can I take an idea that’s going to be on paid media and get some extra boost out of it?’’’ Bob Lachky, Anheuser-Busch’s director of brand marketing explained to the Wall Street Journal. To accomplish this goal, the company arranged for profiles of Rob Fitzgerald, the actor who played Johnny, to appear in such publications as People and USA Today. Fitzgerald also made other public appearances on behalf of the brand and was twice invited onto Late Night with David Letterman.

The inspiration for the ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ campaign came from the real-life experience of David Merhar, the DDB Needham associate who conceived of the ads. After a dinner at home with his 61-year-old father, Merhar hugged his dad and uttered the now-famous words, ‘‘I love you, man.’’ As Merhar explained to USA Today, ‘‘This is how guys say ‘I love you,’ with a little disclaimer.’’

The ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ campaign was a tremendous success. Immediately prior to the campaign, Bud Light had been struggling. During its run, however, Bud Light became the fastest-growing beer in America, with its market share topping 10 percent of the total U.S. beer market. ‘‘Years from now, this will be the case study of how to turn around a dying brand,’’ Modern Brewery Age editor Peter Reid told the Portland Oregonian. DDB Needham did not disguise its pleasure with the results. ‘‘Advertising has established the brand as hip, and that translates into sales,’’ Bob Scarpelli, chief creative officer and vice chairman of the ad agency, told the Dallas Morning News.
The campaign’s success was not just limited to the beer market. The ‘‘I Love You, Man’’ ads became a fullscale cultural phenomenon. As the Oregonian reported, ‘‘The line is the new mantra of the TV-watching crowd, like ‘Where’s the beef’ before it. Signs proclaiming ‘I love you, man’ are all over the stands at sporting events.’’ ‘‘I love ‘I love you, man,’’’ concurred one 26-year-old interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. ‘‘It’s a total manly moment.’’ That response was exactly what Anheuser-Busch had hoped for when it launched the campaign.

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