Anheuser-Busch said it won’t devote a Super Bowl commercial to its flagship Budweiser beer brand this year for the first time since 1983, pledging to redirect spending for the airtime to marketing campaigns related to Covid-19 vaccinations instead.
Budweiser said it is committing $1 million of ad inventory to vaccine awareness and education work by the Ad Council, a nonprofit that helps make public service campaigns, and to COVID Collaborative, a coalition of experts and institutions in public health and other areas. It will also produce multimillion-dollar vaccine awareness efforts throughout the year, executives said.
The Budweiser brand was deep into developing advertising for Super Bowl LV when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its first approval to a vaccine against Covid-19, said Monica Rustgi, vice president of marketing at Budweiser. Its executives saw marketing playing a role in overcoming the hesitation about vaccinations among some consumers, she added, noting, “We’re not only a big beer brand but one of the biggest advertisers.”
While Budweiser could have used a Super Bowl ad to highlight vaccines, it will be more effective to pursue the campaign as the year unfolds and as vaccine eligibility expands and vaccine inventories grow, Ms. Rustgi said. People will also see the messages more often than if Budweiser ran a single vaccine-themed spot during the game, she said.
Budweiser isn’t going completely dark around the Super Bowl, an annual advertising showcase during which the brand traditionally tries to run stirring ads that often feature its iconic Clydesdale horses, puppies and Americana. On Monday, Budweiser will release an online video celebrating the perseverance of Americans during the pandemic and the arrival of vaccines. The video also will announce Budweiser’s decision to sit out from the Super Bowl ad roster.
“We’re still going to reach people during the Super Bowl,” Ms. Rustgi said. “It’s just not going to be in the traditional sense. We’re still using the conversation and the ecosystem around the Super Bowl to send a message, but we’re also helping to be part of the solution so we can all enjoy an ice cold Bud sooner or later.”
Budweiser parent Anheuser-Busch, part of
will still have its usual large presence during the Super Bowl, planning national commercials for the Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer brands, and for Anheuser-Busch itself. The national spots are expected to total four minutes of ad time, the same as in 2020, the company said.
The corporate spot, a first for Anheuser-Busch during the Super Bowl, will include Budweiser and other company brands. “We cannot talk about AB without Budweiser,” said Marcel Marcondes, U.S. chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch, adding that the spot may even include Clydesdales.
But Budweiser is in a position to skip running a Super Bowl ad of its own and support vaccine awareness instead because it is so well-known and has linked itself with American values, Mr. Marcondes said. Additionally, its efforts around Covid-19 last year were well received, he said. They included reviving the brand’s “Whassup” ad campaign to remind viewers to check on their friends and family during social distancing.
“We need to make moves that are authentic to what the brand stands for,” Mr. Marcondes said. “This is not authentic to Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, but it is authentic for Budweiser.”
The Super Bowl ad for Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, a new extension of Bud Light Seltzer, will play on making lemonade from all the “lemons” of recent months, Mr. Marcondes said.
Budweiser isn’t likely to lose sales from skipping an in-game ad this year, said Joy Lu, assistant professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. The Super Bowl gives Budweiser a stage to polish and maintain its brand but the game isn’t necessary to introduce people to the brand, she said.
“How many new people are going to learn about Budweiser through a Super Bowl commercial?” Prof. Lu said.
Consumers may watch Budweiser’s video about staying out of the game in much the same way as they watch Super Bowl ads that many brands post online in the days before the game, Prof. Lu added.
From a marketing perspective, skipping an in-game ad in favor of raising vaccine awareness may also pay off for the brand by generating attention for Budweiser, she said.
The Ad Council is still working on the creative execution for its next round of work around Covid-19 vaccines, said Lisa Sherman, the group’s president and chief executive officer.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to see an ad from the Ad Council that says ‘Go get a shot,’” Ms. Sherman said. “We’re going to say ‘Get educated,’ and we hope that the data and the facts that we provide will help people get comfortable to go get shots. But we know people don’t like to be told what to do.”
Write to Nat Ives at [email protected]
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