Picking the Roster for Super Bowl Beer Pitches
By STUART ELLIOTT
THE players on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks who will participate in their first Super Bowl have a counterpart on Madison Avenue. On the biggest day of the year for advertising, the biggest advertiser is entrusting a newcomer to select its commercials.
The rookie is Marlene V. Coulis, who last August took over as vice president for brand management at the Anheuser-Busch beer division of the Anheuser-Busch Companies in St. Louis. Ms. Coulis succeeded Robert Lachky, who had long overseen the decisions by Anheuser-Busch about which spots would run during the Super Bowl for which brands.
Under Mr. Lachky, Anheuser-Busch’s commercials often ranked highly – frequently coming in first – in the many postgame polls and surveys asking consumers which spots they liked the most. Each year, Anheuser-Busch usually buys more commercial time than any other advertiser during the Super Bowl, which is typically the most-watched TV show of the year.
According to TNS Media Intelligence, a division of Taylor Nelson Sofres that tracks ad spending, Anheuser-Busch paid $230.5 million for Super Bowl spots from 1986 through 2005, 28 percent more than the next largest spender, PepsiCo, at $180 million.
During Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, to be broadcast by ABC, Anheuser-Busch plans to run five minutes of spots for brands like Budweiser, Bud Light, Budweiser Select and new Michelob Ultra Amber. The company is considering about 15 commercials and will probably end up with 8 or 9; Ms. Coulis expects to finish winnowing them down by the middle of next week.
ABC, part of the Walt Disney Company, is selling each 30 seconds of commercial time during the game for an estimated average of $2.5 million, up from the $2.4 million that Fox Broadcasting charged during the Super Bowl last February. Major advertisers like Anheuser-Busch usually get better rates, although the company has to spend an additional unspecified sum to remain the exclusive beer sponsor during the game, which it has been since 1989.
When Ms. Coulis took over for Mr. Lachky, who was promoted, she became the first woman and the first Hispanic to supervise brand management – and the Super Bowl roster – for America’s largest brewer. She had previously been involved in research among consumers to gauge their opinions of Anheuser-Busch’s Super Bowl commercials.
“If there’s a new piece of insight I brought to our agencies it’s that we have a lot of female beer drinkers, a lot of coed beer-drinking situations,” Ms. Coulis said yesterday during an interview in Midtown Manhattan.
“They love beer,” Ms. Coulis said of the women who consume an estimated 20 percent of the company’s beer volume. “And they’re influencers, they have influence over brand choice,” she added, “so we want to make sure we equally appeal to males and females.”
That has not always been the case when it came to creating Anheuser-Busch beer ads, particularly the humorous pitches for Bud Light, the company’s best-selling brand. For many years, critics complained that the commercials were juvenile, sophomoric, even coarse, appealing more to jejune fraternity boys than mature adults.
In 2004, for instance, characters in the Anheuser-Busch Super Bowl commercials included a flatulent horse, a crotch-biting dog, a male monkey wooing a woman and a man whose accidental bikini-wax treatment was played for laughs. The brouhaha over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” that year led to a reaction against salacious Super Bowl content, which led Anheuser-Busch to promise to clean up its act. As a result, the commercials last year were much tamer.
“We always want our agencies to push the envelope,” Ms. Coulis said, “but at the end of the day we want to make sure we’re properly representing the brands.”
For 2006, the goal is not “just to make a joke for a joke’s sake,” she added, but rather to infuse the commercials with the kind of humor “that will make sure drinkers find the brands appealing.”
That guidance seems to have been followed by the agencies creating the spots that Ms. Coulis is deciding among, based on a look she offered at a dozen of the 15 spots being considered. The approaches are generally broad but not burlesque, the situations silly but not stupid.
For instance, one Bud Light commercial, which shows the unintended consequences of stocking a “secret” refrigerator with Bud Light, has a clever premise and a hilarious punch line. The spot is created by DDB Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group.
A commercial being considered for Budweiser Select is sophisticated enough to show a couple playing chess, a pursuit that rarely if ever has made its way into a Super Bowl spot. That commercial is being created by Peterson Milla Hooks, an agency best known for its glossy, offbeat campaigns for Target; it is the agency’s first work for the brand and for Anheuser-Busch.
A possible Budweiser spot tugs at the heart strings rather than hammering at the funny bone. That spot, by DDB, shows a junior Clydesdale getting some uncredited help from its parents.
Ms. Coulis said all the commercials chosen for the Super Bowl will be available for downloading immediately after the game from two Web sites, budlight.com and budweiser.com. “That’s the way we have to be thinking about our advertising,” Ms. Coulis added. “As we look to reach the ever-elusive, contemporary adult audience, we’ve got to understand where they want to be reached.”