Anheuser-Busch's game plan for this year's Super Bowl is simple: More Clydesdales.
The iconic symbols of the St. Louis-based brewer will likely appear in three of seven spots Anheuser-Busch, maker of best-selling Bud Light and Budweiser, has bought during the broadcast of next month's championship football game.
Executives told reporters in a conference call Thursday they couldn't say for certain how many ads would feature the stately horses during Super Bowl XLIII, to air on NBC Feb. 1. But they said this year's ads, which also feature comedian Conan O'Brien, will have more Clydesdales than the company's ads during Super Bowls of the past.
Bob Lachky, chief creative officer, said the horses have come to embody the brewer's more than 150-year-old heritage.
"It reinforces the most important traits of our company and that's the Budweiser brand, tradition and heritage and strength and quality," he said.
The ads also play up the brewer's American identity. That's timely considering the brewer late last year sold itself for $52 billion to Belgium-based InBev SA, forming the world's largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch InBev SA.
Ads from Anheuser-Busch are among the most anticipated during the Super Bowl, an event watched as much for the ads during the commercial breaks as for the sport. The company has a lock on the ads, with exclusive rights in the alcoholic beverage segment through 2012.
This year's slate includes seven spots — two lasting 60 seconds and five that will be 30 seconds long. That's a total of 4.5 minutes of advertising, up from last year's 4 minutes.
A handful of ads were previewed for reporters on Thursday; others aren't yet finished, and the company is still conducting consumer research to select which to air.
Although Anheuser-Busch is under new ownership, its beloved Super Bowl advertising — which dates back three decades — hasn't changed.
The ads feature the Clydesdales in several situations: a romance with a circus horse, a particularly competitive game of fetch and a portrayal of the history of Clydesdales and how they came to the U.S. All the Clydesdales spots are shot by top-shelf ad director Joe Pytka.
All of those ads support Budweiser, the company's second-best selling beer, behind flagship Bud Light. Bud Light ads include a spot with O'Brien, who is set to take over Jay Leno's duties hosting the Tonight Show on NBC later this year.
In his spot, O'Brien says he'll do what would be his first ad after he's told it will air only in Sweden. Rather than pay him, at O'Brien's request, Anheuser-Busch made a donation to the Fresh Air fund, a charity that provides summer vacations to disadvantaged children.
Another Bud Light ad reinforces the "Drinkability" tag line the company has been using for the brand since last year, using humor and drawings on screen to note it has taste but won't fill people up.
Executives said the other ads to air will most likely feature two new brands the company introduced this year — Bud Light Lime and Budweiser American Ale. Bud Light Lime was introduced last spring and is considered one of the company's most successful new products. American Ale, a hoppier, more amber-colored version of its older sibling, Budweiser, was introduced in the fall in the hopes of wooing new drinkers to the brand.
Keith Levy, vice president of marketing, said the brewer wanted to continue the momentum behind its new products by showcasing them to the millions of viewers the Super Bowl attracts.
"One of the things new brands need is continued awareness so obviously the Super Bowl is a great venue and great theater," he said.
The troubles in the economy, which so far haven't hurt the beer business as much as other industries, did not affect the brewer's planning or budgets, executives said, noting that shoots with Clydesdales are typically more expensive than other advertisements because the animals require training and multiple takes.
Levy said considering the recession, the brewer expects people may look to the Super Bowl as a safe haven from their problems, to see the world hasn't changed too much. They'll also see they can still have a good time with their family and friends.
Though Anheuser-Busch decided on much of its campaign late last summer, the decision to use the Clydesdales so heavily seems to be spot on, he said.
"It really would be good if we could make sure that our messages are reassuring and uplifting," Levy said they thought at the time. "That's kind of where the Clydesdales came in."