An asteroid is about to hit Earth? Drink some Bud Light. Your plane crashes on an island? Drink more Bud Light. Really love Bud Light? Why not build your house with cans of it ... and then drink up?
Longtime Super Bowl advertising leader Anheuser-Busch returns to humor next month to sell its drinks after a more, well, sober outing last year.
The brewer's five minutes of commercials during this year's game Sunday, Feb. 7, include straightforward humor: A man skips his softball game to attend his wife's book club because she's serving Bud Light.
But most of the likely spots tend toward the outlandish: Townspeople form a human bridge when the real one is out to assure safe delivery of Budweiser. In another, men talking on the phone in Auto-Tune — a pop-music effect that can make voices sound robotic — are excited they have Bud Light to "make the party right." And there's the requisite TV reference: People stranded on an island happily drink Bud Light in a nod to hit show "Lost."
While other major advertisers like General Motors Corp., Pepsi and FedEx stayed on the sidelines this year to recuperate from the down economy, Anheuser-Busch is increasing its Super Bowl presence by 30 seconds. The average 30-second spot sells for $2.5 million to $2.8 million this year; from 1990 to 2009, Anheuser-Busch spent $311.8 million on the event, according to Kantar Media.
Among the St. Louis brewer's ads in 2009 were three with its trademark Clydesdales, meant to convey tradition and stability after the quintessentially American company sold itself to Belgian brewer InBev and became Anheuser-Busch InBev.
This year's focus for Bud Light and Budweiser is more on fun and partying: New tag lines include "A sure sign of a good time" and "Here we go"; the ads refer without specifics to the beer's "right taste." Gone is the term "drinkability," used during the last Super Bowl to position Bud Light as flavorful but not filling.
Consumers the company surveyed wanted funnier ads this year to break the monotony of their everyday lives, said marketing vice president Keith Levy.
"We certainly want to fulfill their objectives of wanting that departure, wanting to laugh and wanting to love this great event," he said Tuesday.
Each year, the company films more Super Bowl commercials than it can use and then airs the ones that do best in consumer testing. And the company still may change its lineup at the last minute before the game, which pits quarterback Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts against Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints and airs on CBS. The new Clydesdale ads shot for this year didn't pass testing, Levy said.
Some ads are still serious. One features cycling great Lance Armstrong running, biking and then drinking Michelob Ultra, a brand that sponsors cycling and running events and that's sold as a low-calorie alternative. Armstrong is the beer's new spokesman in a rare pairing of alcohol with an athlete.
Another ad shows a close-up of a frosty bottle of Select 55, the company's newest low-calorie brew, which rolls out nationally the first week of February.
The company shifted away a bit this year from one of its main agencies, DDB, which last year did all but one Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl ad. DDB did this year's two like ads for Budweiser. A St. Louis firm, Cannonball, did all four Bud Light spots. Two other firms, Palm + Havas and Momentum, did the remaining two commercials the company plans to air.
The brewer hopes laughs reverse a sluggish 2009, when both Bud Light and Budweiser lost ground against competitors as U.S. beer sales fell about 2 percent. Shipments of Bud Light, the nation's biggest beer brand, fell 2.5 percent, the first decline ever, while Budweiser shipments fell 9.5 percent, trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights estimates.
Levy wouldn't comment on the drop or its effect on Anheuser-Busch's marketing.
As the recession forced Americans to focus on value, they have chosen less expensive drinks, like Anheuser-Busch's Busch Light (whose shipments rose an estimated 5.5 percent), or switched to pricier craft beers (up 5 percent), according to Beer Marketer's Insights.
So with its big Super Bowl spend, Anheuser-Busch has to convince drinkers its premium brands, like Bud Light, are worth the extra money to prevent another slide this year, said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer's Insights.
"I would say the industry is ready for some strong marketing," he said. "There's opportunities out there. Big brands need it. It can't hurt."