Can This Company's Bizarre Marketing Strategy Actually Work?

Anheuser-Busch InBev embraces gimmicks in an effort to boost sales, but how effective can they really be?

Mar 6, 2014 at 2:00PM

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Source: Dwight Burdette.

Colossal megabrewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD) lays claim to more than 1 in 5 beers consumed across the globe. Despite that absurd market share, Big Bud has fallen on relatively hard times, as volumes decline in the world's biggest beer-drinking markets. In an effort to turn things around, the company is employing new marketing ideas that are raising some eyebrows.

By now most Americans with an Internet connection have seen the ridiculous news that Budweiser, with the help of Hall of Fame legend Ozzie Smith, submitted a whitehouse.gov petition to make Major League Baseball's opening day a national holiday. Presumably the attention will make Americans remember Budweiser, understand that Budweiser likes baseball, and then buy more Budweiser. If only Americans weren't ignoring baseball in larger numbers than ever, the marketing team might have had something there.

Anheuser-Busch moves from the absurd to the bizarre with its marketing strategy for Brahma, one of its Brazilian beers. In an attempt to capitalize on the country's profound love of soccer, the company plans to produce a limited-edition beer made from barley grown on a famous Brazilian practice field.

The beer, Brahma Selecao Especial, hit the shelves this month with a price tag twice that of regular Brahma beer. The disparity may help more than hinder sales of this exotic brew, though, as growth in premium lager sales has outpaced total lager sales growth in the country for the past few years.

Despite the unusual nature of this campaign, it's not hard to envision its success. Unlike the baseball ploy, the soccer gimmick is built around an actual product. In a way, the heavy reliance on nostalgia -- the Brazilian World Cup teams have trained for decades on the field used to grow the barley -- hearkens back to the surprisingly successful work of MolsonCoors (NYSE:TAP) and SABMiller joint venture MillerCoors. Its retro can crusade for Miller Lite has given the company a much-needed shot in the arm in 2014. Sales to retailers of new beer in old-looking cans are up 8.9% year to date, and the company has pushed the end of the campaign back from March to September.

AB-InBev is also switching up its packaging design. Beginning this week, Budweiser will debut new bottles across the world as it begins its promotional run-up to the 2014 World Cup. The bottles and corresponding television spots are part of its "Rise As One" campaign. The bottles are gold and feature the World Cup trophy. What is it about a Miller Lite can from the 1970s that makes a consumer want to buy a beer that he or she would not buy otherwise? And can an ugly gold bottle of Budweiser capture the same magic? This writer is willing to guess no.

Regardless of the outcomes of these specific initiatives, Anheuser-Busch has to try something. Sales volumes in the United States and Brazil are crucial for the company's well-being; they are the first and third largest beer markets, and both experienced volume declines in 2013. Management has already warned that marketing and input costs will rise this year; the question now is whether these campaigns, or campaigns like them, will be successful in either the short term or long term. Successful marketing can make a difference -- just ask MillerCoors.

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