Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Saturday, February 23, 2008


In June 1997 Anheuser-Busch Companies introduced a multimedia national advertising campaign to bolster its Budweiser brand beer. Although Anheuser-Busch dominated the American beer market with a 45.3 percent market share and a diverse product line that included the beers Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch, Michelob, and numerous other brands, Budweiser’s sales had begun to slip in the late 1980s. The company turned to its advertising agencies to seek a solution to Budweiser’s problems through a revamped marketing image. After launching, in 1995, the highly successful ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign, which attempted to capture the 21- to 29-year-old segment of the American population, Anheuser-Busch continued to pour advertising dollars into Budweiser. A substantial portion of the estimated $150 million spent annually on Budweiser between 1997 and 2001 went to a campaign called ‘‘Louie the Lizard,’’ developed by the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to target younger beer drinkers.
The campaign, which had TV, radio, print, outdoor, online, and promotional components, focused on an embittered animatronic lizard named Louie who railed against the Budweiser frogs in a Brooklyn accent. Louie was galled that Budweiser had chosen the frogs as brand representatives instead of him; the frogs were each capable of uttering only a single syllable, whereas Louie was articulate and intelligent, if somewhat unstable. Over the course of the campaign Louie became increasingly jealous of the frogs, hiring a ferret to kill them during one memorable series of commercials. In 2000 he focused his resentment on a wildly popular contemporaneous Bud advertising campaign. Soon thereafter, the swampcreatures storyline faded from prominence, to be only briefly resurrected in 2001, 2004, and 2005. The campaign was one of the most popular in recent advertising history, and it was credited with sustaining the freshness of Budweiser’s image among its target audience of young beer drinkers. It won numerous ad-industry awards, including a 1998 Silver Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival and an assortment of Clio Awards in 2000. Nevertheless, Budweiser sales continued to decline during the life of the campaign. Although some observers pointed to this fact as evidence of the fruitlessness of Bud advertising, the reality of changing American beer preferences was inarguably the leading cause of Budweiser’s steady sales erosion.

In the fiercely competitive American beer market, Anheuser-Busch had often used high-profile advertising campaigns to promote its flagship beer brand, Budweiser. Even with a history of brewing in the United States that dated back to 1852 and a solid reputation as the world’s largest beer maker, Anheuser-Busch still felt the squeeze of flattening beer sales that plagued the entire beer sector in the 1990s. In 1995 American beer sales continued a decade-long trend of descent and dropped an additional 1.5 percent. Anheuser-Busch soon realized that, although Budweiser remained the beer of choice for older Americans, the brand’s popularity with the highly desirable segment of younger beer drinkers, aged 21 to 29, had waned.
By 1994 Anheuser-Busch determined that
Budweiser’s image—carefully cultivated through visible ad campaigns—sorely needed to be energized and updated. That year Anheuser-Busch severed its long-term relationship with D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, the agency that had created the iconic 1979 ‘‘This Bud’s for You’’ campaign that featured hardworking, Budweiserdrinking blue-collar laborers. Prior to this dismissal, however, D’Arcy had produced a single TV spot that would lay the groundwork for one of Budweiser’s most popular advertising platforms of all time. That initial commercial, featuring three swampdwelling frogs who stared at a neon Budweiser sign and who each croaked a syllable of the brand name in turn, immediately resonated with consumers. DDB Needham Chicago (the agency later dropped ‘‘Needham’’ from its name), one of the group of ad agencies Anheuser-Busch chose to work with after severing its relationship with D’Arcy Masius, followed this introductory commercial with more than a dozen spots featuring the amphibians croaking out the syllables of the Budweiser brand in humorous scenarios. Over the course of the next two years the campaign almost single-handedly vaulted the Budweiser brand out of its slump. Sales of the brew among younger beer drinkers boomed; industry publications, including Advertising Age, lauded the campaign’s creativity and wit; and polls measuring consumer response revealed that the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign was one of the most popular ever.
Anheuser-Busch was under constant pressure to end the beloved ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign, though. Children’s advocacy groups claimed that the commercials were designed to ‘‘hook’’ kids on the Budweiser brand by using ‘‘critters.’’ In 1996 a survey of San Francisco–area children revealed that 9- to 11-year-olds were more likely to recall the Budweiser frogs than they were Smokey Bear or Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger. The company was also aware of the risk of taking the ‘‘Frogs’’ concept beyond the point of freshness and innovation.

The lizards’ saga of jealousy and murderous rage, as presented in the ‘‘Louie the Lizard’’ spots, was designed to capture the same audience pursued by the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign. Attracting men aged 21 to 29 had long been the aim for beer advertisers. Not only did these younger drinkers consume far more beer than their over-30 counterparts, but also, they cemented their beer brand loyalty during these years of their lives. In the 1990s, however, Anheuser-Busch was plagued both by younger consumers turning to trendier microbrews and by a falling number of 20-somethings in the population at large. The smaller pool of younger drinkers was more likely to consider Budweiser as their ‘‘father’s brand’’ and less as the choice for a younger generation.
The ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign did much to reinvigorate the brand’s image among more youthful drinkers. Advertising Age correlated a near tripling of this age group’s awareness of Budweiser with the release of the ‘‘Frogs’’ commercials. The so-called Generation X, however, was more media-savvy than its predecessors and thus more likely to lose interest in a campaign. ‘‘They look to advertising and marketing as almost a spectator sport,’’ a specialist in targeting Generation X consumers told the Sacramento Bee. The lizards, especially Louie, with his solipsistic plot to overthrow the frogs and become a commercial star, provided Anheuser-Busch with the perfect opportunity to deliver a style of tongue-in-cheek humor that often performed well with the target audience. By purposefully poking fun at the ‘‘Frogs’’ campaign—which was beginning to wear thin with some viewers—the ‘‘Lizards’’ commercials delivered a sophisticated spoof on advertising itself. Beverage World agreed that it was the type of consciously cultivated ‘‘self-deprecating’’ humor that sold well with consumers in their 20s.

Anheuser-Busch’s largest rivals launched their own advertising campaigns to capture the same demographic group targeted by the ‘‘Lizards’’ commercials. Miller Brewing Co., always a strong competitor, teamed up with Portland-based ad agency Wieden+Kennedy to create the ‘‘It’s Time to Drink Beer’’ campaign for Miller Genuine Draft (MGD) in 1997. With Miller facing the same stagnating sales figures as Budweiser, its campaign was intended to reposition MGD as the hip brand of the 1990s. Following the popular resurgence of 1970s fashion, the black-and-white commercials featured frolicking youths wearing bell-bottom jeans and swigging MGD to funk music. But the Miller campaign employed the same irreverent humor that marked Louie’s rants. ‘‘It’s time for good old macrobrew’’ made in ‘‘vats the size of Rhode Island,’’ one commercial proclaimed in block type. Miller’s vice president of marketing explained to Beverage World that the target market of the MGD campaign did not ‘‘like typical advertising.’’ Like Budweiser’s ‘‘Lizards,’’ MGD’s campaign also sought not to exclude women and minorities—two groups noticeably absent from earlier beer commercials. Instead of avoiding the issue with ‘‘critter’’ ads, MGD’s ‘‘It’s Time to Drink Beer’’ sought to build a more modern image through an inclusive cast of characters. Women appeared in the commercials but danced and drank with ‘‘the boys.’’ Their function was not that of sex symbols. African-Americans with outrageously tall afro hairstyles (again reminiscent of the 1970s) were prominently featured in the campaign as well.
Adolph Coors Brewing Co., the third-largest American brewery, relaunched its Original Coors beer in 1996 with a $10 million advertising campaign. For years Coors had dedicated most of its efforts to marketing Coors Light. The Original Coors commercials were themed ‘‘the last real beer’’ and centered on the notion that Original Coors was an ‘‘honest,’’ anti-elitist brew.

Although Anheuser-Busch would not reveal the exact dollar amount it committed to the saga of Louie and Frank, the company typically spent between $300 and $350 million a year on advertising during the years that ‘‘Louie the Lizard’’ ran. The bulk of that figure was dedicated to Budweiser and Bud Light, and multiple campaigns for each brand tended to run simultaneously. This giant budget ensured that Anheuser-Busch was able to support Budweiser with a ‘‘total advertising effort,’’ according to the company. In addition to a vast array of ‘‘Lizard’’ television commercials, the reptiles also appeared in national radio spots, on promotional clothing, in outdoor and print ads, and as the sponsors of athletes and sporting events.
Indeed, if there was one word to encapsulate
Anheuser-Busch’s strategy in reaching its target audience, it would be sports. The television commercials were usually aired during big-ticket athletic events watched by millions of American viewers. The campaign debuted during a National Basketball Association (NBA) game carried by NBC, made numerous Super Bowl appearances, and often ran during Major League Baseball games and the Monday Night Football series.
Radio spots were similarly broadcast during sporting events. Not only did Anheuser-Busch dole out considerable funds to ensure that Budweiser was named the ‘‘Official Beer of Major League Baseball’’ in 1998 but it also crafted specialized radio commercials for baseball fans. Budweiser also sought and achieved the distinction of being recognized as the ‘‘Official Beer of NASCAR,’’ the stock-car racing circuit. In conjunction with this development, Louie the Lizard was painted on the Budweiser team’s car in 1998. Michael LaBroad, director of Budweiser marketing, explained in a press release that the company was ‘‘always looking for ways to extend our advertising icons beyond television.’’
The ‘‘Louie the Lizard’’ spots starred Louie and Frank, two disaffected animatronic lizards who felt spurned because Anheuser-Busch had made stars of the earlier Bud campaign’s croaking frogs instead of them. ‘‘I can’t believe they went with the frogs,’’ Louie complained to Frank in a distinct Brooklyn accent in the campaign’s first commercial. ‘‘Our audition was flawless.’’ Perhaps the best known of the commercials were those released during the 1998 Super Bowl in a sequence of four spots that related Louie’s attempt to assassinate the frogs (and thus be able to take their place) by hiring a ferret hit man. The campaign continued with Louie trying out a Texas accent after he learned that one of the Bud frogs he had tried to eliminate was a Texan. ‘‘Frank, these Texans, they hold grudges,’’ said Louie. ‘‘You know the phrase, ‘Remember the Alamo?’ Well now it’s going to be ‘Remember the frog.’’’ In July 1998 a commercial showed Louie being given a chance to join the croaking-frogs chorus. But he became flustered and botched the shoot, crying, ‘‘I can’t work in this environment. Cut! Cut!’’
As the campaign matured, the jealousy plotline escalated. Although the ferret successfully managed to electrocute the frogs with the neon sign on which they so obsessively focused, the frogs lived. The incomprehensibly gibbering ferret was well received by consumers and Anheuser-Busch executives and became a regular character in the campaign. In 2000 Louie’s jealousy found a new target: the cast of another set of DDB-created Budweiser spots, the enormously popular ‘‘Whassup?!’’ campaign.
That effort, centering on the comically ebullient
‘‘Whassup?!’’ greeting exchanged, with elaborate tonguewagging, among friends, had for the moment eclipsed even the universally famous frogs and lizards. (‘‘Whassup?!’’ parodies flooded the Internet, and the campaign won the Grand Prix at the 2000 International Advertising Festival in Cannes.) Louie claimed, with characteristic resentment, that the ‘‘Whassup?!’’ crew had stolen the protruding-tongue idea from him.
Always wary of overexposing even its most successful advertising concepts, Anheuser-Busch sent the swamp creatures into semiretirement midway through 2000, and the hiatus lasted roughly a year. In 2001 Louie and company reappeared in commercials that, surprisingly, were aimed at an over-40 audience. These spots included work that mimicked Budweiser product-quality advertising of the past as well as further ferret-related drama. The swamp-creatures storyline again faded from the airwaves, only to reappear briefly in 2004. Amid an increasingly acrimonious advertising spat between Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller (the parent company of Miller Brewing), which had been initially triggered by Miller’s claims that its Miller Lite had fewer carbohydrates than Bud Light, Louie was tapped to foment the anti-Miller sentiment. Anheuser-Busch again allowed the lizards to be resurrected in 2005 at the request of JibJab, the animation team that had created a wildly popular online cartoon parodying the 2004 presidential-campaign efforts of George W. Bush and John Kerry. JibJab, given creative license to spread the Budweiser message online, showcased the lizards and frogs in a barbershop singalong deriding drinkers of pretentious cocktails and wine.

In addition to constructing an elaborate plotline in the ‘‘Lizards’’ campaign, Goodby and Anheuser-Busch made up profiles for their new stars, Louie and Frank. On Budweiser’s Web page Goodby created ‘‘Bios and Headshots’’ for the reptiles. Using the same cute humor that defined the commercials, these profiles listed such fictional details as Louie’s ‘‘Last Book Read’’ (The Work Habits of Seven Highly Effective Lizards) and ‘‘Hobbies’’ (‘‘swatting flies, tracking grasshoppers, and bowling’’). Moreover, in press releases Budweiser executives spoke of the lizards as though they were real. A marketing representative was quoted as saying, ‘‘We’re delighted that Louie and Frank have decided to spend their summer with us in Texas.’’

The exploits of the disgruntled reptiles quickly won popular approval. USA Today ’s Ad Track survey of adult consumers revealed that the campaign was among the most popular in modern advertising history. Anecdotal evidence and analysts’ observations indicated that the ‘‘Louie the Lizard’’ campaign connected with the desired audience. Janine Misdom, a Manhattan marketing- firm partner, explained to the Sacramento Bee why consumers under 30 responded to the Louie and Frank saga: ‘‘It’s funny, it’s a little bit nostalgic, and there’s a little bit of the bad-boy thing.’’ On June 22, 1998, USA Today reported that its most recent Ad Track indicated that the ‘‘Louie the Lizard’’ campaign appealed to consumers across lines of class and age. Marketing insiders heaped praise on Goodby’s lizards. Advertising Age commended the campaign as the ‘‘Best of Show’’ from a pool of nationally aired commercials. The TV campaign won a Silver Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in 1998. In 2000 the radio portion of the campaign was awarded a gold, two silvers, and two bronzes at the Clio Awards (one of the world’s largest advertising-awards programs), while the TV campaign took home a bronze Clio Award.
Neither ‘‘Louie the Lizard’’ nor ‘‘Whassup?!’’ could arrest Budweiser’s seemingly permanent sales slide, however. This led many advertising-industry observers to question the value of Budweiser’s marquee image-building campaigns, but Anheuser-Busch felt that the declines were the inevitable result of changing American tastes in beer. Besides, Budweiser advertising was meant to have the ancillary effect of driving sales of other Anheuser-Busch brands, especially Bud Light, which in 2001 surpassed Budweiser to become the best-selling beer in the United States.

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