diciembre 15, 2004

Budweiser Select and viral marketing

I often cruise down the beer aisle at my local HEB (best supermarket ever!), though I purchase only extremely rarely. [Extremely rarely = whenever a 12pack of Shiner is on sale for $9. And then you make several purchases. -- ed.]

In that last month I've noticed a new, attractively-packaged Anheuser-Busch (A-B) product called "Budweiser Select." I took note of it because I thought A-B might have simply renamed Anheuser World Select, a relatively new premium lager. I've been curious as to whether or not Anheuser World Select would succeed. It's a pilsner, but not a remarkable one, in my opinion. It's also expensive, and I tend to not associate Budweiser with expensive or quality.

So I did some research on this Budweiser Select. It is not Anheuser World Select (which is not on the shelves at my local HEB, indicating to me that it isn't doing spectacularly).

Here's some excerpts from A-B's local paper, St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

Anheuser-Busch Cos. will begin test-marketing Monday a new Budweiser product that has slightly more hops flavor, while offering a lower carbohydrate and calorie content than any product in the Budweiser family, including Bud Light.

Though it has more hops flavor, Budweiser Select remains an American-style lager, said Don Meyer.

With only 99 calories and 3.1 grams of carbohydrates per 12-ounce serving, Budweiser Select will have the lowest carb and calorie count of any Budweiser product.

Budweiser Select is expected to have broad appeal among beer drinkers, though it may be skewed to the white-collar and upscale market given the sophisticated packaging, Meyer said.

"I think it will be equally attractive to males and females, and it also should appeal across the whole age demographics, 21 plus," Meyer said.

The beer will be priced the same as Budweiser and Bud Light.

The seven test-markets are: Austin, Texas; Deptford, N.J., a suburb of Philadelphia; Athens, Ga.; Des Moines, Iowa; Green Bay, Wis.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Nashville, Tenn.

To generate some buzz, A-B weeks ago set up billboards that directed consumers in these test-markets to go to an Internet site. For example, Austin consumers are sent to www.areallygreatnewbeeriscomingtoaustin.com, where they go through a humorous presentation of "great moments in beer history." The teaser ends with Nov. 8 left as the "next great moment."

"We don't reveal it is from (Anheuser-Busch) in this teaser Internet campaign," Meyer said. On Monday, consumers going to this site will be directed to another site, where they can access the brand and retail information, he said.

A-B also will support the product through new local television, cable and print advertising as well as promotions at on-premise locations.

To boost 'word of mouth,' the brewer will hold Sunday 'bartender balls' at each of the test-markets aimed at introducing the beer to select bartenders, waiters and waitresses.
I'm in Austin, so hence why I've seen the product on the shelves. Here's some thoughts:
1. I didn't see any of these advertisements...or at least don't remember any of them if I saw them. That doesn't bode well.

2. Lowcarb and lowcal publicity. What exactly is their target market? A-B already has Michelob Ultra in the low-carb beers, so I assume they don't want Budweiser Select to compete with that.

They say they want to have "broad appeal" though it "may be skewed to the white-collar and upscale market. . ."

Uh, ok. It doesn't seem to me like their marketers have really figured out a profile of their target customer. They're sending mixed messages. Apparently they aren't targeting light beer drinkers, but every article notes that Bud Select has the lowest calorie and carb content of any A-B beer. So it must've been in their press release.

When people hear lowcarb and lowcal, I think they assume that it lacks taste, because it's a light beer. I certainly do.

3. Packaging. The packaging is great. It's eyecatching, classy, and it looks like a premium beer. It was so good that it made me do this research on the beer.

4. Price. Yet they're pricing Bud Select the same as Budweiser and Bud Light. It's premium packaging, yet BudLight pricing. There's a disconnect there that is confusing to me as a consumer.

5. The product is shelved with all the other Budweiser products, which tend to be on the lower-end of the beer pricing and quality spectrum. My guess is that many premium/microbrew folks don't check this area out unless they want a light beer or something of that nature.

6. I don't think that A-B's Budweiser Select viral marketing campaign will be in any business school case studies in the future. A website that doesn't reveal what the beer is? I don't like that. Also, I went there today and I put in a zip code that I knew wasn't in their target markets. The website froze. They apparently didn't plan for anyone to visit the site from outside their target markets...not a good way to create buzz outside your target markets.

7. I like the "bartender balls." Bartenders have the ability to tell their customers about a great new beer, if they like it. I don't know how standard this is in the industry, but potentially it seems like a good idea. Malcolm Gladwell -- who helped kick off the viral marketing trend -- might call bartenders Mavens of their subject.

I haven't tasted the beer yet and I'm not sure I intend to. It seems to me that there are too many mixed messages. If they were going to choose that packaging, they should've marketed it as more of a premium beer. If they're going to note it's low-carb, low-calorie nature, I think they should market it as a light beer. I think they're already going after the low-carb premium market with Michelob Ultra.

Perhaps it really tastes wonderful -- they seem to think so, since they're marketing it very broadly. But with all the contradictions in packaging, price, and low-carb, low-cal publicity, I don't think this beer will take off.

What I would have done: if they think this beer tastes so great that they're going to market it broadly, then I think they should have done two things differently: raise the price to match the packaging and omit the low-carb information.