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Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser still has no real challenger for the title of King of Beers in the US. The extended family - led by top-selling Bud Light - still accounts for almost one out of every four beers consumed in America. A run of enormously effective television commercials featuring talking lizards and TV-obsessed couch potatoes did much to consolidate the brand's position between 1995 and 2002, and also boosted Budweiser's profile with a wider global audience. Budweiser's hold on the international market is less secure, not least as a result of a long-running and damaging legal dispute with Czech brewer Budvar. That has begun to change now that Budweiser is owned by global titan AB InBev, which declared its intent to confirm Budweiser as "the first truly global beer brand". At the same time, to smooth ruffled feathers in the US over the takeover of a domestic icon by a foreign company, Budweiser has placed an even greater emphasis on its American heritage since early 2009, describing itself as "The Great American Lager". Yet even in Budweiser's domestic market, there has a wider subtle shift among consumers towards less mass-market brands, and the Bud family as a whole has been powerless to halt a slow but steadily erosion of its popularity in favour of imported or craft beers.
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Who handles Budweiser's advertising? Click here for Agency Account Assignments for Budweiser from Adbrands.
Adbrands Weekly Update 16th Aug 2018: Only recently introduced in the UK, Bud Light is the new official beer of the England football team, hoping to reap the benefits of renewed public support for the side following its unexpectedly strong performance in the FIFA World Cup. With an unfortunate lack of foresight, Carlsberg ended its 20-year partnership with the Football Association in the Spring.
Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Jun 2018: The Budweiser family of brands is still under pressure in the US from imports and craft beers, but the brand is booming in many global markets, not least the UK. Latest figures from Nielsen, quoted in The Grocer, show that Budweiser has risen two places in two years in local take-home sales, from the #4 brand in 2016 to #2 this year, behind Stella Artois. Year-on-year increase in sales was an exceptional 13% to almost £420m. That included £382m from the main Budweiser brand, £31m from new-to-the-UK Bud Light and £7m from alcohol-free Prohibition. That put it firmly ahead of Foster's, which slumped almost 12% to £354m. Another former star, Carlsberg, slumped 11%. Both suffered temporary delisting by leading supermarket Tesco over the past year. Meanwhile, Corona and Peroni were the biggest risers, both up by over 10%.
Adbrands Social Media 22nd Jun 2018: FRIDAY CLASSIC: Bud Light 'Swear Jar' by DDB Chicago (2008). Who said the client is always right? Back in 2008, a brilliantly funny spot from DDB Chicago for Bud Light became a 12-million-views viral sensation and won a shelf-full of awards including a Silver Lion at Cannes and even the US Creative Arts Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial despite having never been shown on television. Almost a year earlier, though, client Anheuser-Busch (then in the process of being acquired by InBev) had effectively shelved the finished spot as unusable. It's a classic tale of industry serendipity. So how did it happen? Galen Graham and Jason Karley were the creative team at DDB Chicago... .[Story continues here]..
Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Jun 2018: Cannes Lions 2018. The first batch of winners were announced from Cannes Lions 2018. (See the full run-down, including all the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners at the Cannes Lions 2018 website). DDB's Africa Sao Paulo won Grand Prix in Print & Publishing as well as two Golds for its cheeky Tagwords campaign for Budweiser. The beer holds a special place in popular music, and has been photographed on numerous occasions being drunk by famous rock stars. The agency worked out that it would be too problematical to use pictures of those rock stars drinking the beer because of the endorsement costs and regulatory issues. So instead it put together a press and outdoor campaign in which fans were encouraged to search for specific search phrases online that would bring up classic images of, for example, the Beastie Boys or Rolling Stones or members of Queen clutching a can or bottle of Bud.
Adbrands Social Media 14th Jun 2018: "Cheer for Beer". TBWA's UK creative boutique Lucky Generals are behind this cute promotional stunt for Budweiser. It's a sweet idea: fans in different countries are encouraged to cheer as loudly as possible to win a limited edition World Cup Bud from the vending machine. The loudest cheerers get something even more valuable: a ticket to the event. Nicely done, but we do rather feel we've seen this gag many times before, most notably in the shape of Canadian agency Rethink's beer fridge for Molson (which opened if you said the brew's "I am Canadian" slogan in any one of 40 different languages).
Budweiser is still the undisputed champion in the US beer market, but it cannot afford to rest on its laurels, given the increasingly aggressive marketing of rival brewers, the surge in popularity of imported and craft beers, and also competition from other alcoholic beverages. The brand's marketing profile is another distinct asset, the result of a string of unconventional and highly memorable campaigns. Budweiser's biggest weakness is its inconsistent performance in global markets, partly the result of the Budvar trademark dispute. However the brand has a good head start in China. Volumes there are still small, but they have possibility to eclipse Budweiser's sales in other international markets by the end of the decade.
One path is sponsorship. Budweiser became a sponsor of the US Olympic Team in 1984, the year of the Los Angeles Games. Two years later it became the "official" beer of the FIFA World Cup since 1986, and a major recurring headline sponsor, including in 2018 in Russia. In 2011 it became the first American brand to sponsor the UK's FA Cup football tournament. That mirrored an existing dominance in the US, where Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL (now until 2022) as well as the sponsor of 28 of the 32 NFL teams, and also of CBS network broadcast coverage of Thursday night games. It also has a strong presence in Major League Baseball. In 2015, Budweiser became the official beer of the FA Cup until 2018, at which point it will also replace Carlsberg as the main sponsor of the England national team. Bud will continue to partner the FIFA World Cup until at least 2022. However the US Olympics partnership finally came to an end in 2016 after 32 years.
In 2012, the group began extending Bud's sponsorship into music as well with the launch of the nationwide Music First programme of live events, and sponsorship arrangements with Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake. That was followed in 2013 by a global partnership with Rihanna covering 85 countries worldwide. Lady Gaga joined the portfolio in 2016.
Brewed and sold since 1876, Budweiser became the world's best-selling beer in 1957 (overtaking Schlitz), and held that title until 2011, when it was overtaken in total volumes by China's top-selling domestic beer Snow. However it remains the clear top seller by global revenues, with combined retail sales for the extended family in excess of $20bn in 2012, according to AB InBev's own estimates. Net revenues to AB InBev were $5.3bn in 2014, from volumes of 44m hl. Brewed in eight countries around the world, it is distributed in more than 70.
The brand's greatest strength lies in the US, where it has unrivalled domination of the industry. In fact, the most important member of the extended Budweiser family is Bud Light. Bud Light was first introduced in 1982 as Budweiser Light, a rival to Miller Lite. Renamed Bud Light a year later, it overtook Miller Lite in sales in 1984, and has continued to grow steadily in popularity ever since, gradually eclipsing its full-calorie parent. It overtook the main Budweiser brand as well in 2001 to become the best-selling beer in the US. Sales peaked in 2008 at almost 42.4m barrels (according to Beer Marketer's Insights), but Bud Light has experienced continuing erosion of its position ever since with volumes slipping back steadily year-on-year. For 2017, Beer Insights estimated total shipments (on- and off-trade) of 33.2m bbls, down a worrying 5.7% year-on-year, and equivalent to 15.4% market share. It was still the overall top-seller with more than double the volumes of second-placed Coors Light.
The main Budweiser brand has suffered an even steeper decline, tumbling from highs of around 50m barrels in 1988. In 2011, Budweiser surrendered its position as America's #2 beer to Coors Light, and in 2017 it slipped to 4th place for the first time in 50 years or more. Volumes fell by almost 7% to around 13.4m bbls (Beer Insights).
For the year to May 2017, IRI (in figures quoted by Bevnet) estimated total dollar sales of $5.90bn for Bud Light, down just over 2% on the year before. That was still more than double second-placed Coors Light. Budweiser was down over 3% in dollar sales to $2.04bn, sitting in 4th place behind Miller Light. The family's various specialty brands and variants contributed around another $690m combined.
Competition from other brands has been the main reason for the introduction of a never-ending stream of different variants designed to maintain the Bud family's overall lead. The first of these was Bud Dry, introduced in 1989 using the lengthier dry-brewing process, followed by Bud Ice and Bud Ice Light, both introduced in 1994. No further extensions were introduced until 2004, when Anheuser introduced a malt beverage version of Budweiser described as beer "infused with caffeine, ginseng and guarana". The new product, named Be (or "B to the power of E"), targeted clubbers familiar with Red Bull and similar "energy drinks". It was later renamed Bud Extra. However, in 2008, Anheuser agreed to stop marketing the product in the face of pressure from lawmakers because of its popularity with underage drinkers.
A more mainstream product was introduced in 2005 to cater to low-carb drinkers under the name Budweiser Select. Anheuser claimed at the time it was one of the company's most successful launches ever. An additional variant was introduced in 2009 with even lower calorie and carb content as Select 55. One of the Bud family's more unusual variants was unveiled at the end of 2007: Budweiser and Bud Light premixed with Clamato tomato cocktail. Marketed as Budweiser Chelada (or Bud Light Chelada), this is a version of a cocktail already popular with a Latino market in the US. The product was launched into selected US states with a high Hispanic population in early 2008. It was followed by a lime-infused version of Bud Light marketed as Bud Light Lime, and then a darker craft beer, Budweiser American Ale. New for 2009 was Bud Light Golden Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer brewed with wheat malt, coriander and citrus peels. Bud Light Platinum, launched in 2011, promised an even finer taste "triple filtered" for extra smoothness, as well as a higher alcohol content (6% ABV).
Bud Light Lime-a-Rita, a ready-to-drink margarita-style malt beverage, was a very popular 2012 launch, followed up with Bud Light Straw-ber-Rita, then Cran-Brr-Rita and Mang-O-Rita. Initially planned as a limited edition seasonal beverage the "Rita" franchise has proved unexpectedly longlasting, with combined sales topping $1bn in 2014. Another addition to the portfolio was Budweiser Black Crown, an amber specialty lager with 6% alcohol content (compared to Budweiser's 5%), which launched in January 2013. However sales of these newer variants rarely hold up in the long term. Beer Insights placed only one of Budweiser's variants among the Top 20 for 2016 by total shipments: Bud Ice with 2.5m bbls, or 1.2% overall share, slightly up on the year before. During 2017, AB InBev introduced a non-alcoholic version of Budweiser in Canada as Budweiser Prohibition. This enjoyed some success and has been rolled out in other markets, most notably the UK. New for summer 2018 in the US was Bud Light Orange.
The market has become increasingly competitive in recent years, not least as a result of the merger of rivals Miller and Coors, first into multinational brewing groups, and most recently into a single US competitor, MillerCoors. After years of stagnant performance, both competitors regained confidence in 2003 and 2004, launching direct attacks on Budweiser's stature. Miller in particular openly mocked the "King of Beers" tag. Anheuser responded by dismissing Miller as the "Queen of Carbs", a reference to its low carbohydrate content, and resulting popularity among Atkins dieters. Yet there was a distinct edge to Anheuser's response. Queen or not, Miller Lite scored a significant rise in volumes during 2004, leading to Budweiser's own (rather late) entry into the low-carb market with Bud Select. Since then, Anheuser has sought to wrap Budweiser in the American flag, disparaging its rivals at first for their "foreign ownership" and proclaiming Budweiser as "America's beer". In 2006, it launched a further patriotic initiative saluting America's servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan. In its boldest initiative to-date, AB InBev actually renamed Budweiser as America beer in summer 2016.
As Budweiser has attempted to build its status as an icon, Bud Light went in the opposite direction, positioning itself as an irreverent iconoclast, in advertising which was skewed heavily towards younger men and their interests. Maintaining its dual marketing approach, in 2003 the group launched a tongue-in-cheek radio campaign for Bud Light celebrating "Real Men of Genius", who were in fact anything. This won considerable acclaim, and was eventually expanded as a set of TV ads, although these didn't quite live up to past glories. A new strategy was unveiled in late 2009, as Bud Light began moving away from its traditionally "blokey" humour in favour of less edgy positioning which emphasised its "superior drinkability". However, this too failed to recapture the brand's former audience, who had been tempted away by more niche-based brands from the imported or craft market. After years of different staretgies, Bud Light finally appeared to capture the attention of the market in late 2017, almost entirely unexpectedly. A medieval-themed spot from Wieden & Kennedy New York was released to tie in with the finale of the latest season of Game Of Thrones, and introduced the mock-English drinking toast "Dilly dilly". This appeared to catch on in social media, prompting the creation of a series of other spots for Thnksgiving 2017 and Super Bowl 2018 with the same general theme and catchphrase. For all its popularity in social media, the "Dilly dilly" trend doesn't appear to have provided any lasting solution to Bud Light's steady sales decline. IRI reported a further decline of 3.4% for Bud Light sales in January 2018.
The key to Budweiser's success has always been its innovative marketing. At the end of the 19th century, Anheuser-Busch launched a series of innovative promotions for its beers featuring penknives and free lithographs. "King of Bottled Beers" was actually the company's first ever slogan, introduced in 1899 (and in fact borrowed directly from the German beer Kaiserbrau, or "Beer of Kings"). In the 1930s and 1940s Budweiser was "America's Social Companion" or "A Beverage of Moderation". Later in the 1940s, Anheuser-Busch was the first brewer to advertise on television. In 1952, Budweiser officially became branded as "The King of Beers", a slogan which ran until the early 1970s, when it was replaced by ''When You Say Budweiser, You've Said it All''. During the early 1980s, the company launched the ''This Bud's for You'' for you campaign.
However Budweiser's market share had begun to decline by the early 1990s. Not only was the main brand widely associated with an older generation of drinkers, but it was overshadowed by the successful launch of Bud Light. Anheuser attempted to restart growth of the parent brand with the launch of Bud Dry, but this flopped, as did a new slogan, "Proud To be Your Bud", which replaced the previous long-standing "Nothing Beats A Bud". Instead, the group initiated a dual strategy of targeting older drinkers with heritage-based marketing featuring the celebrated Clydesdale dray horses, while reaching out to a younger audience with edgier and more off-the-wall marketing. The introduction of the Budweiser frogs (each croaking a different syllable of "Bud", "Weis" and "Er") in 1995, accompanied by a successful viral marketing campaign, marked the beginning of Budweiser's return to form, and re-established Budweiser as a hip brand for young drinkers. This morphed into the "Louie the Lizard" commercials produced by US agency Goodby Silverstein, which created a huge boost in awareness during the late 1990s, and won a shelf-full of awards.
But even they were eclipsed by the success of the "Whassup!?" campaign, launched in 2000. In fact that ad, produced by DDB Worldwide Chicago, was based on the real-life habits of director Charles Stone III. Stone and his circle of friends had been exchanging the "Whassup" greeting since the mid-1980s. In 1998 he made a short film entitled True about the group; this was seen by DDB and became the basis of the first ad. The success of the Whassup!? campaign was remarkable by any account, spreading the catchphrase into popular culture.
More recently the brand has returned to its heritage, resurrecting the King of Beers tag, and centring much of its marketing around the concept of freshness. In the days before refrigeration, Anheuser-Busch was the first brewer to conquer the problem of keeping beer from going bad before it was delivered to customers, by establishing a national network of breweries as well as refrigerated delivery trains. Although modern technology has made these concerns largely irrelevant, there are still some advantages to getting beer to customers as quickly as possible. The beer's taste is arguably superior, and perceived quality is enhanced. As a result Anheuser has made a virtue out of the fact that each shipment of Budweiser carries a "Born On" date, the date on which that particular batch was packaged. The group claims to be able to deliver its products into stores and bars on average 14 days before other brewers.
In 2006, Anheuser announced plans to launch a dedicated web-based entertainment channel, Bud TV, offering custom-made programming, including sports, stand-up comedy, and even Bud Tube, in which users can submit their own homemade content. Produced by Budweiser's core agency DDB, the channel launched with a fanfare in time for Superbowl 2007 with a goal of reaching an audience of 3m users by year's end. However the response from web users was muted to say the least, and after an initial spike, visitor figures steadily dropped over the next few months, falling below 150,000 by Spring. The company launched a review of the concept in June that year, but vowed not to cancel the service altogether. There was a change of strategy in early 2009, and Bud TV was finally terminated in February that year.
By comparison to the US, Budweiser's international profile is still weaker, although that imbalance is gradually changing. In 2012, more than half of Budweiser's total volumes were sold outside the US for the first time in its history, and by 2017, international markets accounted for two-thirds of total volumes. That year alone, Budweiser launched for the first time in five new markets: Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, South Africa and Australia.
The beer certainly has a strong presence in Canada, where it has been the #1 beer brand since 2003 (produced and marketed by InBev's local subsidiary Labatt). In the UK, one of only two international markets where Anheuser had controlled its own local brewery, Budweiser is the #1 premium packaged lager in bars, clubs and restaurants (but not pubs), and overtook Foster's for the first time in 2017 to become the #2 take-home lager behind Stella Artois with sales of £380m in the year to Sept 2017 (Nielsen figures quoted by The Grocer). Budweiser sponsors the UK football Premier League as well as Manchester United football club. Bud Light is not widely available, though it managed to achieve sales of around £21m in the year to Sept 2017. The group has also enjoyed some success with no-alcohol version Budweiser Prohibition. Budweiser has also proved extremely popular in Ireland, and replaced Guinness as the popular tipple for many young adults.
Budweiser's most important international territory, however, is China, where Anheuser-Busch had established the Budweiser Wuhan International Brewing Company. The capacity of the Wuhan plant reached 3.5m barrels by 2006, and even before its takeover by InBev the group distributed nationally across this huge country through a network of 70 independent wholesalers in more than 40 key regions. In addition to the main Budweiser brand, the local company produces Bud Ice and a low alcohol brew Budweiser Ultra. In 2008, Budweiser was the official beer sponsor of the China Olympics, as well as of the local Olympic team.
Elsewhere, Bud had been produced under license; by CCU in Argentina; in Ireland by Diageo's Guinness; in Italy by Heineken; in Japan by Kirin; in Spain by Damm; and also in the Philippines and Korea. There were also import and distribution agreements with partners based in Central America, Denmark, France, Mexico and Sweden. In 2006, Heineken agreed a deal to begin brewing and marketing the beer in Russia under the Bud name. However all these partnerships came under review as a result of Budweiser's arrival in the InBev family, and have been gradually dismantled. In almost all markets, Budweiser is now marketed by the local subsidiary of InBev. The group has also introduced the beer into several important new markets, not least Russia in 2010 and Brazil during 2011. As a result, AB InBev claimed that, despite erosion in the US, total combined volumes of the Bud family rose by just over 3% in 2011, and that international sales accounted for almost 44% of sales, compared to 28% in 2008.
The main check until now to the brand's international expansion has been a long-running and seemingly irresolvable row with rival brewery Budejovicky Budvar, owned by the Czech government. This company is situated in a city now called Budejovice, but before 1918 the town was known officially as Budvar, while its large population of German immigrants called it Budweis. Adolphus Busch was paying homage to that town when he first introduced Budweiser in the US in 1876. In 1895 the Budvar brewery also laid claim to that brand name and the first row between the two brewers was settled with a 1911 agreement which allowed the American company to use the Budweiser trademark in all territories except Europe. Budvar was the first company to break the spirit of that pact in the 1930s, when it began selling its beer in the US under the name "Original Bohemian Budweiser Beer from Budweis City". A second agreement was signed in 1939 in which the Czech brewer agreed not to use the Budweiser name in North America and several - but not all - European countries. As both companies expanded over the following years those other, unresolved European territories became the focus of a furious legal battle.
Budvar now has the legal right to use the name Budweiser in more than 40 of the 55 countries it exports to. As a result, in around 20 European territories - including France and Russia - Anheuser has been obliged to market its product as Bud. In 2013, Budweiser rebranded as Bud in Italy as well following an unfavourable ruling from a local court over ownership of the name. In several other countries, Budejovicky Budvar has the exclusive right to the Bud name as well. Initially Anheuser was reduced to calling itself "American B" or "Anheuser Busch Bud" in those territories, but now in most cases the company only markets its Michelob brands in disputed areas. Budweiser beer is not sold in the Czech Republic, and was finally withdrawn from Germany in 2012 after repeated attempts to get around the name block failed to win over customers. During the early 1990s, Anheuser attempted to pressure the Czech government into selling the Budvar brewery, but negotiations stalled in 1995. In 2001, Budvar began its first attack on the US since the 1930s, distributing its beer as Czechvar. Meanwhile Anheuser made a renewed effort to introduce Budweiser into Germany, with a competition inviting German drinkers to come up with a new name. At the same time, bottles of Bud with the name part of the label artfully torn off were test-marketed in key urban centres.
By 2002 the battleground had shifted to Australasia, where the two companies continue to fight their way through the Australian and New Zealand courts. In a shock verdict in 2003, the UK's House of Lords ruled that Budvar could market under the Bud and Budweiser names in the UK, making it the only country in the world where the two could co-exist with the same name. Meanwhile the two competitors remained embroiled in more than 50 lawsuits across Europe. Anheuser scored a victory in Italy in 2005, where an appeal court in 2005 overturned a previous ruling allocating the Budweiser trademark to Budvar. The group launched a new assault on Germany in 2006, supported by the acquisition of exclusive rights to sell beer within sports stadium's during the 2006 World Cup. In return Budvar applied to the European Union for protection, claiming that Budweiser counts as a "protected geographical indication" like Parma ham, Champagne or Roquefort cheese.
That long-running row showed signs of heading towards a partial conclusion in 2007 after the two sides agreed a truce under which Anheuser-Busch agreed to take over exclusive US distribution rights to Budvar, which it markets under the name Czechvar. The legal battles between the two companies continues in other markets. In March 2009, the European Court of First Instance upheld a ruling refusing what is now Anheuser-Busch InBev permission to register the Budweiser brand as a trademark in Europe as a whole. The following year, Europe's highest court of all, The European Court of Justice, reiterated that ruling. As a result, Budvar has sole rights to the Budweiser name in 19 countries, including Russia and Germany. AB InBev has sole rights in eight countries, and the two companies may both use that brandname in the UK. In Jan 2013, a European court reinforced AB InBev's rights to use the Bud trademark in all 27 EU countries, and this decision was ratified by the EU Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market in June the same year.
Budvar is a minnow by comparison with its American "namesake". Total volumes sold in 2016 were 1.6m hectolitres, of which only around half were sold outside the Czech Republic.
For a history of Budweiser's development, see Anheuser-Busch profile.
Last full revision 27th February 2018
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