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Budweiser is going hyperlocal in 2021 to attract younger drinkers

Budweiser toasts Detroit hometown hero Big Sean.

Yes, Bud is eyeing the Super Bowl, but the brand has realized that tapping into everyday moments is the way into 25- to 34-year-olds’ hearts, hands and refrigerators.

Michigan is about to get its very own Big Sean Budweiser can this week, with a special-edition 25oz tall boy released in honor of the rapper’s new album,Detroit 2.

This tactical, local execution is a glimpse into Budweiser’s larger play for the all-important 25- to 34-year-old target demographic, according to vice-president of marketing Monica Rustgi. “Making the younger generation fall in love with the brand the way other generations have – that’s my job.”

To accomplish this, the iconic American beer brand is going to get “hyper hyperlocal” in 2021. “We are going to be hypersensitive and insightful as to how Budweiser lives and breathes within a local market and then create a campaign surrounded by that.”

This is the antithesis of the brand’s heyday, when it focused on high-profile, mass market plays like the Budweiser Frogs and Wassup to engage with audiences. The Super Bowl served as the linchpin for these efforts because of the sheer scale and cultural moment at-hand. But today, “you don’t have to wait for the Super Bowl for that to happen,” says Rustgi. “If you find something that strikes at a cultural nerve – and that doesn’t have to be a polarizing nerve – it drives conversation. It doesn’t have to be something that we start from scratch, it can be something already within the cultural zeitgeist like a town and a sport. That’s the sweet spot – the intersection between something that has social currency within a sub-community and Budweiser having an authentic way of tapping in.”

One recent example was challenging Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer to break his teammate’s strikeout record. It offered to create a ’Cincinnati Buds’ can if he succeeded (he did). But, of course, it isn’t just about sports. Bud also moved in on the fact a Florida condo lined with empty cans of Budweiser was for sale and, just before Labor Day, it pronounced itself “the official beer of the shift change” in Philadelphia. Outdoor executions celebrated all of the restaurant workers and construction workers who had to punch the clock during the national US holiday and, in honor of their hard work, Budweiser bought them a free lunch. It also campaigned to become the official state beer of Utah. But this is just the beginning.

“Consumers can smell run-of-the-mill marketing,” says Rustgi. ”Even for a brand as large as Budweiser, we always want to make sure we’re right at the heart of consumers and authentically. We are starting at the ground up versus from the top-down. If you do something tailored, it’s going to stand out more than one size fits all. That’s the difference between marketing and a genuine message.”

So, will Bud appear in the Super Bowl (if there is one)?

Despite its increased focus on local and grassroots efforts, Budweiser will not be shying away from the glare of the Super Bowl spotlight (assuming there is one). “Budweiser has been a part of the Super Bowl for the last 30 years, so we’re integrated into the Super Bowl DNA.” Whether it’s the core brand or new line extensions like Budweiser Zero or Budweiser Nitro that get the nod, Rustgi won’t say. One thing that is clear, however, is that the big game spot will only be one piece rather than the entire puzzle.

Given this new direction for the brand, what can we expect in terms of tone? Rustgi says it’s about balance. Since she joined in 2016, Budweiser has been “reintroducing America to its core values“. “It was important to remind people about the depth and obsession behind brewing the beer. So that’s why over the course of the past three years you’ve seen more heartfelt marketing.”

This year, however, it was time to bring back more light-hearted pieces, “because we are a beer after all”, she says.

The mix of tactics and messaging is notable, says Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights. “During the pandemic period, neither Bud or Bud Light have had any kind of traditional campaign. It has been willing to try a lot of new approaches and I can’t blame it. If you don’t have the same kind of dollars to spend, you need to be more flexible and creative.”

The overall sense among wholesalers has been that sales are improving, says Steinman. This is significant since Bud and Bud Light sales have been in decline for years. Budweiser sales are up 3.5% year-to-date, according to Nielsen.

Rustgi acknowledges that the brand has had to become much more agile. For example, Budweiser Nitro debuted at the beginning of March but ads were paused until July. Budweiser Zero also had a muted launch. “We’ve had 30 different plans. It has made us more resilient, because we’ve fallen in love with ideas that then couldn’t happen because X, Y or Z game got canceled, so we’ve had to be like, ‘alright park it so we can use it in the future’.”

Overall, she hopes that in 2021 the brand can get back to some sort of ”business as usual” in terms of how it likes to push behind its products. ”But we’re still feeling very proud of how nimble we have been.”

In the meantime, Michiganians will get to toast local hero Big Sean with new custom cans. Next stop: Budweiser is coming to your town.

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