A Decade of Beer Ads: Super Bowl XLIV Edition

8 02 2010

Last night was the Super Bowl, the championship game for the National Football League, here in the United States. Apparently the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts. I don’t follow football and I haven’t watched a Super Bowl in years. But recently, the Super Bowl has been known as “The Biggest Advertising Day of the Year” as 30 second ad slots get sold for millions of dollars a piece. It is also the forth biggest beer drinking day of the year. So, by connection, this is the biggest day of the year for beer ads. And while we are only a month and a half into the 2010’s, today’s beer ads will set the pace for the decade to come.

Anheuser-Busch signed an exclusive contract with CBS (the network hosting the Super Bowl this year). Fans watching on TV and later on Hulu.com and YouTube.com only saw ads for Budweiser, Budweiser Select 55, Bud Light, and Michelob Ultra. Miller and Coors have been effectively black balled from this year’s festivities. The result, Anheuser-Bush’s monopoly of beer ads were lack luster and uninspiring. While Miller and Coors took it to the streets. But first, some ads from A-B.

Here is the traditional Budweiser Clydesdale ad. Every year, Bud produces an ad dripping with nostalgia and patriotism as they trot out their old Clydesdale team of horses. It’s cheesy. It’s predictable. It’s a crowd pleaser.

Bud also plays off its Americana, can do! spirit by having town members come together and rebuild a bridge using their own bodies to allow a Budweiser delivery truck into their town.

Bud Light had a series of ads where people are distracted from their extraordinary events to party down with Bud Light. They are cute but, again, predictable. In two of the ads, Bud Light plays off the “Lost” craze. In one, people trapped on a deserted island choose beer over rescue. And on another, Franciou Chau (Lost’s Dr. Pierre Chang) plays an astronomer who discovers a giant asteroid coming toward earth. The Astronomers then react by throwing a kegger with Bud Light.

Budweiser Select 55 had the shortest ad of all the A-B ads. At a mere 15 seconds, it was half the air time of a standard ad. Perhaps a subtle nod to the fact that Bud 55 has half the calories of a classic bud. Or possibly because even A-B realizes that the extremely lite beer craze is merely that, a craze. And will die down eventually. The ad is cute. It features some rocking E.L.O. but it does not inspire excitement for, what in the end, is just another lite beer.

And while Bud Select 55 is for people who want to drink a lite beer and do nothing else, the Michelob Ultra ads are directed toward the more athletic and outdoorsy types. Set to the opening seconds of Blur’s 1997 hit Song #2, Lance Armstrong is shown running, biking, and drinking beer. A motivational-speaker-esque announcer spouts out some nonsense about how successful people make success for themselves, or something like that. Once again, A-B knows their audience and goes right for the vein.

So while Anheuser-Busch spent millions of dollars to fill the airtime with lack luster spots that were perfectly attuned to their key demographics, Miller and Coors took their millions of dollars and went to go play somewhere else, namely the Internet. At nearly $100,000 a second for airtime they saved by not being on the TV, they were able to reinvest that money into their fans.

Coors sponsored a contest to have their fans create user generated content (in other words, free ads). Fans created ads in order to win tickets to yesterday’s game. And for the past 44 days, fans of the beer could get special games and promotions through facebook and SMS messages on their phone. While the Super Bowl would not be getting Coors Light any new fans, it was an excellent opportunity to rally the community already supporting them.

Miller was able to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse by making it appear like they had purposefully opted out of the game. Their “Little Guys on the Big Game” campaign played off of Miller’s everyman/working man persona by supporting small businesses with the money they would have spent on commercial air time. By contrasting themselves to A-B’s millions of dollars and having actual small business owners give descriptions of their companies, Miller High Life becomes a beer of responsibility and tradition in a time of chaos and uncertainty.

This is why I think yesterday’s Super Bowl has set the tone for beer commercials in the next decade. With the rise of viral advertising, blogs, social networking, and user generated content, focus on paid advertising will become less and less. And focus on user experience with increase more and more. The irony of yesterday being while A-B spent millions of dollars to strong arm its competitors out of game, they had not realized that the rules of the game had changed.

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