The King of Beers is well known as a pioneer in mobile marketing but Anheuser-Busch’s first foray into the discipline predates the big-rig era.
The company might have been the first brand to take its message on the road when it introduced the Budweiser Clydesdales in 1933. But much has happened since then. Flash forward 74 years and A-B is still living la vida mobile. While the Clydesdales are now handled by their own internal department the rest of the No. 1 brewer’s mobile marketing magic is cooked up inside A-B’s Contemporary Event Marketing department. Through its handling of multiple mobile programs CEM has made the beer company a veritable mobile marketing powerhouse.
The tours are big bold and oh so Bud. The Bud Light Lounge—perhaps the company’s signature live marketing initiative on the road right now—serves up an 18-wheeler providing a 3 500-square-foot environment in which consumers hang out with brand ambassadors engage an interactive media floor and chat with friends on an observation deck on the vehicle’s top floor. The tour is on course to hit approximately 40 markets in 2007 alone. The company’s Dale Jr. Experience meanwhile travels to NASCAR races and other sporting events where it keeps consumers connected with a hi-def movie theater featuring frequently updated content on Budweiser-sponsored driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Busch Bass Pro Shop mobile rig connects with outdoorsmen. And that’s just the beginning. The mobile tours come fast and furiously at the beer giant and it all starts in CEM.
While A-B’s mobile activities are usually the biggest and shiniest around—generally incorporating the latest interactive bells and whistles—those are merely a means to an end. CEM keeps humming not because of how much interaction its mobile tours create—and they do—because of how the group’s events have impacted perception of the brand.
“What we’re really trying to do is elevate the image of beer in our consumers’ minds ” says Mark Greenspahn A-B’s director-contemporary event marketing. “We want them to associate that fun and exciting time they had with their friends and recall our beers when they have to make that important choice in a grocery store or in a bar or restaurant.”
EM gives you a look behind the curtain at one of the most prolific and most experienced internal mobile marketing departments in existence. This one’s… on us.
You could say that it all started with the Clydesdales. But the action really began—and the CEM department took shape—with Budweiser Beer School a four-unit mobile program that went on the road in 1996. A-B was starting to lose marketshare to microbreweries and Beer School gave the company an opportunity to trumpet messages about quality and ingredients to consumers.
“It was the launching point of what today’s contemporary event marketing department is all about ” Greenspahn says. “We were seeing the increasing relevance of events and the ability to create awareness for our products at major events across the country. We were realizing the value of one-on-one opportunities.”
How it works: The contemporary event marketing department at A-B tackles special event and on-premise marketing. Special event marketing includes mobile initiatives and a variety of other programs including a custom bar rental program for wholesalers to utilize for local events. On-premise marketing takes A-B into bars and clubs across the country to connect with “contemporary” adults—that is consumers between the ages of 21 and 27. Helping to make it happen are 44 brand reps who travel around the country providing support at a variety of special events and on-premise initiatives.
The staff has grown considerably since the days of Beer School. Back then it was the marketing manager and administrative support and now the company houses 12 CEM employees in St. Louis plus the aforementioned 44 reps across the map.
The decision to launch a new event program or mobile tour not surprisingly is typically dictated by what’s happening in the marketplace. To that end CEM works closely with the company’s brand managers to create relevant experiences based on the strategy for each brand. At Anheuser-Busch all brand marketing and advertising strategies are created solely to support each brand’s strategy at any given time.
For mobile marketing and many other event initiatives A-B leans on The Spark the St. Louis-based agency that was previously the in-house Busch Creative Service unit before going private in a spin-off in 2002. For on-premise USM&P Marina Del Rey CA handles.
Part of the CEM department A-B’s traveling special events team is made up of 44 people divided into a 17-person national crew and a 27-member regional team charged with covering the company’s 10 geographic regions. The national team spearheads major event efforts—like the 18-year-old Bud Bowl program which creates a mega-Super Bowl viewing experience in the host city each year—while the regional team works on local events with wholesalers.
Wholesalers typically use their own resources to fund smaller local and regional events. But for larger events—say if a NASCAR race is in town—the wholesalers tap A-B’s national event resources for everything from mobile units and customized bar rentals to create a more appropriate presence. A-B staff at corporate takes the requests and prioritizes them based on the importance of the event and the availability of the requested resources.
Over the years the company has been able to streamline how it works with wholesalers to make the process more efficient. A-B has often found for example that when it comes in to support a regional wholesaler-funded event the wholesaler is so overwhelmed by the tactical side of the event operation that it doesn’t have staff or resources to run the actual events.
As a result “we’ve become much more efficient in developing mobile units that don’t require a lot of wholesaler support ” says Jeff Knapper A-B’s special event marketing manager. “We’ve also increased our special event team to offset those needs.”
Life on the Road
The mobile landscape has changed drastically since the days of Beer School when A-B could command attention by merely showing up. “It’s so much more competitive out there today ” says Greenspahn. “There are so many more companies going mobile and the space is always tight.”
The increased competition means that A-B has to be hyper-aware of what works and what doesn’t or risk losing that one-on-one connection with consumers. To keep things fresh and relevant the company is always watching how consumers interact with its mobile programs looking for ways to finetune the experience.
For example in 2004 A-B launched the Budweiser True Music Roadhouse an experience aboard an 18-wheeler that had consumers creating their own tunes with digital mix stations singing in soundproof recording studios and playing actual drum sets electric guitars and other instruments that were hooked up to headphones. It looked gorgeous and employed some gee-whiz interactives but A-B found that it was just too much… stuff. The technical aspects of the Roadhouse took too long for consumers to understand and they often responded by tuning out the experience altogether.
The response? In 2006 the company literally transformed the vehicle to create an experience at the opposite end of the spectrum—the aforementioned super-chill Bud Light Lounge. “One thing we’ve learned over the last few years is that consumers want a wide variety of choices and they want to be able to choose what they want to do and how long they want to spend with you ” Greenspahn says. “We’re developing experiences that enable consumers to interact with us for as long or as short of a period of time as they would like.”
The vehicle’s transformation from a controlled tech-heavy experience to a laid-back choose-what-you-want lounge is emblematic of how the company is approaching more of its mobile programs. “In the beginning we really had a formatted formal process and kind of walked them through the experience and directed messages to them ” Knapper says. “Our mobiles now seem to let consumers pick the experience that they want to get.”
A-B is also finding that in some cases an impressive big rig might not give the company the flexibility it needs to quickly get in and out of venues. For smaller events the company is creating initiatives around nontraditional mobile marketing vehicles. The Busch Bass Pro Shop mobile for example is a 42-foot box truck that hits retailers and hunting and fishing events. The company’s most recent mobile launch the Bud Light MXT is going everywhere from major sporting events to lifestyle events (see Road Rage left). “The smaller more mobile units are more targeted to some of the events we go to ” Greenspahn says.
Plus the smaller vehicles save on fuel usage and allow for more event days on the road because of their flexibility. “If there’s been any one trend it has been to make sure that every efficiency is gained and that the public interface is increased ” says Terry Hobbs vp-production services at The Spark. “It’s no longer doing an event on one weekend and waiting until the next weekend to do another. The key has been conserving effort without affecting the impact on the message.”
The move toward smaller vehicles is also helping A-B achieve another goal: to create super-customized experiences for niche events. Take for example the Busch Bass Pro Shop mobile unit. “The Busch Bass unit is perfect for outdoor hunting and fishing events ” Greenspahn says. “I think we’re going to get more and more focused on creating more customized relevant experiences for specific events.”
The CEM group continues to serve a variety of functions everything from in-house consultancy to external execution tactician. The mobile tours remain on the road tweaked in real-time to ensure relevance and efficiency. The communication with internal A-B brand managers is getting pushed to a new level as the CEM unit strives to fuse events with the needs of the A-B trademarks. Up ahead: new measurement efforts continued refinement and a new suite of mobile tours that the company is betting will redefine once again how brands connect with customers on the road.
The King… lives on.
Photo Credit: unsplash.com/@giisilveira