How Anheuser-Busch is marketing hard seltzer beyond the summer

This summer, a new drink reigned supreme: hard seltzer. 

Myriad alcohol brands, from Pabst Blue Ribbon to Natty Light to Smirnoff, aimed to win over consumers and beat the White Claw, which is reportedly the top brand in the category, with their own versions of hard seltzer. 

Now, heading into fall, Anheuser-Busch is looking to take its hard seltzer, Bon & Viv, beyond the summer seltzer wars. To do that, A-B InBev has inked a deal with the NFL and plans to spend 80% of Bon & Viv’s fall marketing budget on the partnership. That includes TV spots during NFL games, digital banners and spots on as well as a partnership with Twitter.

“What we’re really trying to do is reach the 60% of Americans who are still unaware of hard seltzer,” said Chelsea Phillips, vp of Beyond Beer brands at Anheuser-Busch. “We might think of it as a seltzer war but that’s really only being waged on the coasts of the country. There’s a lot more ground to cover as far as introducing this new product to people across the country.”

Working with the NFL to bridge that gap makes sense as it has a high reach and a co-ed audience of various ages, explained Phillips. While summer “is a more intuitive” time for drinking hard seltzer, she added, the company is looking to get people accustomed to drinking the beverage during other times of the year, like while watching football or during the holidays. 

This fall isn’t the first time Bon & Viv has advertised with the NFL. Last February, the brand made its Super Bowl debut with a 30-second spot. In the second quarter of 2019, Bon & Viv spent $9 million in media, up from the $6.5 million it spent during the first quarter, according to Kantar, which doesn’t track social spending. It’s unclear exactly how much the brand will spend on this fall as it did not immediately respond to an email. 

Branching out from a summer focus and making Bon & Viv relevant year-round is logical for the brand, noted Matthew Zehner, CEO and co-founder of full-service commerce shop Zehner, adding that A-B InBev likely wants to have high-performing non-beer brands as that’s where consumer tastes are moving. Plus, making a play to win in hard seltzer is an obvious move for the company. The category is reportedly already worth $550 million and financial firm UBS estimates that by 2021 it could be worth $2.5 billion.

While Bon & Viv works with agencies — Bullish serves as its agency of record — as well as the company’s in-house shop, when it comes to creating content for its NFL partnership, the lion’s share of that work will go to the A-B InBev in-house agency Draftline. That’s due to the nature of the fast-paced NFL season and the need to create content that can respond in real-time, according to Phillips. 

“When you think about branded content, you’re producing months in advance of when you’re actually going to be running it,” said Phillips. “In this case, with what we can do with social and digital environments and Draftline’s capabilities, we can respond very quickly with new creative to current events that are happening in the sport. That’s a really exciting way for us to insert ourselves in the conversation and have people be more aware of who we are as a brand to leverage the sponsorship and partnership.” 

Overall, Bon & Viv currently spends 60% of its marketing budget on TV and 40% of digital and social channels. The company declined to provide figures on how it breaks up that social spending but did note that Instagram was its top social channel. 

“This is still a very young category and young product,” said Phillips. “We’re trying to drive awareness through TV. It’s the easiest place to reach people with an introductory message and then through retargeting on social.”

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