College Debt Experiential Marketing

A Bold Message Takes Flight for Natty Light’s College Debt Relief Campaign

Stumble-upon discoveries are one of the ways experiential marketers are activating creatively and safely in the time of COVID-19. For Anheuser-Busch’s Natural Light, a captivating installation in Grand Central Terminal in New York City helped tell a bold story in a socially distanced yet highly shareable manner. Mixing high-value art with inexpensive beer, the brand amplified its Natural Light College Debt Relief campaign with the “Da Vinci of Debt,” what it calls “the most expensive piece of art in the world,” as it was created using 2,600 authentic physical diplomas of real college graduates across the country.

The piece, which was on view Jan. 14-16 and lives on virtually, featured a collection of diplomas suspended in mid-air, illustrating the “chaotic impact” college debt creates. Each diploma was molded in place using a network of cables. The brand values the installation at $470 million—the 600-year-old Da Vinci painting, “Salvator Mundi,” sold for $450 million in 2017. As Daniel Blake, vp-value brands at Anheuser-Busch explained, “The art world is filled with absurd price tags that most people find impossible to justify. That’s what made it the perfect medium for this campaign. It’s a very fitting analogy for the outrageous cost of attending a typical four-year college.”

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While beer is often central to the college experience and the brand’s of-age target, Natty has focused its marketing on not just the good times, but the challenges students face as they grow into adulthood. The Da Vinci of Debt program builds on the brand’s “supportive” messaging and promise. Launched in 2018, the Natural Light College Debt Relief program has provided $1 million in debt relief. From January through March 11 of this year, college students can post on social media what inspires them to go to college with #NattyStories and #Contest to be chosen to have their debt paid down.

“When we start the creative process for a campaign, we always put our fans first, 21+ college students and recent grads,” Blake told EM. “We’re a brand that wants to help ease their transition from college into adulthood, and find ways to celebrate the college experience.”

Natural Light Augmented Reality

An augmented reality view of the installation available on Snapchat.

To amplify the installation and activation in Grand Central Terminal, the brand partnered with Snap to replicate the Da Vinci of Debt in augmented reality. Using the Natural Light AR Lens, Snapchat users can view and explore the exhibit virtually by placing it wherever they are and tapping sections of the installation to learn more.

Ensuring the College Lifestyle is ‘Thriving’

The Da Vinci of Debt installation is one of several experiential programs Natty has launched over the past year.

“Without being able to physically get together with friends in large groups, our core consumer felt like they were going to miss out on some of those great experiences last year,” Blake says. “So, we wanted to think of different ways to reach them away from bars, campus, sporting events or concerts, and still ensure that college lifestyle was thriving.”

An example is the Dorm From Home program, where Natty placed a fully functional mobile dorm unit in the driveway of one of its fans ahead of the start of the fall semester 2020. Earlier last year, as college commencements were canceled because of the pandemic, Natty was the first to announce a virtual commencement that consumers could “crack a beer to,” featuring Mark Cuban and Jane Lynch, among speakers, and a performance by Machine Gun Kelly.

The Natural Light College Debt Relief program is currently in year four of a 10-year commitment of $10 million pledged for college consumers. “The program changes and evolves each year as we try to engage new individuals and broaden our reach to aid as many consumers as possible,” Blake says. “It started with a Super Bowl ad and now we just built an art installation in the heart of New York City—who knows what future years of this program will look like.”
(Agency: The Bait Shoppe)

Image credits: Natural Light 

Rachel Boucher
Posted by Rachel Boucher

Rachel joined Event Marketer in 2012 and today serves as the brand's head of content. Her travels covering the experiential marketing indust ry have ranged from CES in Las Vegas to Spring Break in Panama City Beach, Florida (hey, it's never too late)—and everywhere in between.
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