Image: Bud Light
Mhl  /  AP
While many are cutting back on advertising budgets in a souring economy, Anheuser-Busch is rolling out a $50 million ad campaign to differentiate its Bud Light brand from rivals.
updated 10/2/2008 4:57:09 PM ET 2008-10-02T20:57:09

Anheuser-Busch is rolling out a $50 million advertising campaign for Bud Light playing up the beer’s “drinkability,” trying to set the brand apart as rival MillerCoors waits until the new year to release new ads for its big seller, Miller Lite.

Bud Light’s new ads, which start airing Saturday during college football, feature situations ranging from a football game to a pool party to tell consumers that all light beer isn’t the same and Bud Light has taste but won’t fill them up.

“Light beer as a category has become a little bit more ubiquitous and so differentiating yourself within the array of choices that exist for consumers, to me that’s going to win the game,” said Keith Levy, vice president of brand management.

The St. Louis-based brewer, which is selling itself to Belgian brewer InBev SA, said consumers told the brewer Bud Light had enough flavor and is easy to swallow — two factors that help make it a beer that people can drink. The ads boast the tag line: Bud Light, the difference is drinkability. That replaces “Bud Light keeps it coming” and before that, “Make it a Bud Light.”

While other companies across a variety of industries are curtailing their advertising spending amid the economic slowdown, Anheuser-Busch is pushing its biggest brand hard. The beer industry is considered relatively recession proof. Indeed, Anheuser-Busch’s overall sales were up 2 percent this summer, with help from the new Bud Light Lime offshoot.

The television ads use humor to position Bud Light against other light beers, a category that is now considered the industry standard. But the ads don’t name specific competitors.

“When you’re the biggest brand in the world, it’s more valuable for you as a brand to talk about yourself versus somebody else,” Levy said.

In an ad featuring a pool party, one person says he doesn’t care which light beer he has because they all taste the same. Not so, says a man who appears as all the others in the background freeze.

“Does bath water taste the same as spring water?” he says, putting bird bath water into a man’s cup.

“Does ground beef taste the same as beef on the ground?” he asks as beef falls from a hamburger flipper to the grass.

No, he says. Bud Light is different.

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“It has just the right taste without being too heavy,” he said.

Bud Light held a 39 percent share of the light beer segment in 2007, said Eric Shepard, executive editor of trade publication Beer Marketer’s Insights. Miller Lite had a 17.2 percent share, while Coors Light had a 15.3 percent share, he said. This year, Coors Light sales have been up a bit, while Miller Lite has been down. Bud Light was up just slightly, he said.

The newly formed MillerCoors, a joint venture of SABMiller’s U.S. unit and Molson Coors Brewing Co., is planning new positioning to play up its two biggest brands, Miller Lite and Coors Light, while giving them separate identities.

New ads are now airing for Coors Light playing up its connection to the Rocky Mountains and featuring football greats like former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

But new ads for the company’s biggest brand, Miller Lite, won’t air until next year. Currently the company is running football-themed ads from last year for the brand.

In August, MillerCoors announced it was reviving its “Great Taste, Less Filling” tag line for Miller Lite. The tag line was created more than 30 years ago and over the years has featured such notables as comic Rodney Dangerfield and football coach John Madden bickering back and forth, with some saying the drink tasted great while others said it was less filling.

The tag line is appearing in print and in-store merchandise, but not yet on television. Those ads will air next year, MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green said.

“As we move forward in this joint venture, our positioning will be focused on Miller Lite’s taste and Coors Light’s refreshment,” Green said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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