Millennial Marketing and Bud Light Living

Bud Light Living

Marketing beer to 18-34 year old males used to be a pretty simple equation. Add one part everyman, two parts attractive young people, toss them into a fantastical situation, and voila: marketing magic!

While every now and again a commercial would hit on a universal truth or coin a new catchphrase, most marketers were content to churn out different permutations of this formula and collect their cheques.

As a result, most beer commercials in the 90’s and 00’s were little more than pleasantly forgettable diversions, delivered to a captive audience via cable TV.

If you don’t believe me, try naming your five favourite beer commercials of the 00’s. Not so easy, is it?

Goodbye catfights, hello millennial marketing

Despite the best efforts of beer advertisers, the past five years have seen a seismic shift in the media consumption patterns of 18-34 year-old millennial males.

Not content with the same recycled scenarios that amused their forty-something forefathers (i.e. “Beer + Swedish Bikini Team = Awesome”), millennial beer drinkers are proving more discerning consumers of branded media. Terms like “social reach” and “earned media” now fill agency boardrooms, as advertisers scramble to engage a fragmented audience with unprecedented control over the content they choose to consume.

In a digital world dominated by on-demand mobile media, traditional beer commercials simply aren’t compelling enough to drive social sharing. Take this ad from Corona, for example:

While well-produced and on-brand, the spot (like many others) has thus far failed to generate any noteworthy social activity – suggesting that the format simply doesn’t translate well to the social web.

Long story short: while a tolerable distraction on Sunday afternoons, most millennials aren’t in a rush to share conventional beer ads with their friends.

Millennial Beer Marketing 101

Here’s some statistics on millennial self-image as it relates to beer consumption (courtesy of MarketingCharts and Unruly):

  • Millennials are 45% more likely than other demographics to agree that risk-taking is exciting
  • 44% more likely to agree that they live a lifestyle that impresses others
  • 47% more likely than the average adult to spend more than three hours on social networking sites per day
  • 47% have drank a craft beer within the last 30 days
  • 44% have drank a domestic light beer within the last 30 days
  • 80% indicate that they tell their friends about new beers they’ve tried

Assuming these stats are accurate, we can infer three things about millennial beer drinkers:

  1. They view themselves as sophisticated risk-takers
  2. As a result, many enjoy drinking beers that are perceived as unique
  3. They’ll share beer-related content, but only content consistent with this self-image

So how have the big brewing companies responded to the evolving sensibilities of millennial beer drinkers?

Simple: by highlighting the incredible things that invariably happen when you “live in the moment” (while drinking responsibly, of course).

Bud Light: Up For Whatever, Wherever, Whenever

The top-selling beer brand in the United States, Bud Light made a splash with millennials at Super Bowl 2014 with their commercial “Ian Up For Whatever”:

The spot introduces us to Ian, an average guy who is randomly offered a Bud Light by an attractive woman at a bar. There’s just one condition: by accepting the beer he agrees that he’s “up for whatever” happens next. This sets off a wild night where Ian gets styled by Minka Kelly, plays ping-pong with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and eventually winds up in the middle of an impromptu oneRepublic concert.

The spot was actually filmed twice (once with Ian, and again with another random dude who apparently wasn’t “bubbly” enough), with the full three-minute version promoted via Bud Light’s YouTube channel. Kicking off a series of branded Super Bowl events to introduce Bud Light’s new slogan (“The Perfect Beer for Whatever Happens”), according to BBDO “Ian Up For Whatever” was specifically intended to tap into the “energy and optimism of millennial [beer drinkers]”.

The video performed well on social (though eclipsed by the success of parent brand Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” spot), generating ~18.5 million views and 90% positive ratings on YouTube. Exclusive, unexpected, and adventurous, “Ian Up For Whatever” is grounded in the willingness to take risks and embrace the unknown – strategically incorporating many of the thematic conventions known to connect with millennial beer drinkers.

Still one part everyman and two parts attractive young people, the third ingredient Bud Light’s new millennial marketing formula is a uniquely spontaneous situation that emphasizes the excitement of taking risks. This idea of “living in the moment, wherever life takes you” is then tied back to the brand through promotional events and social content, making Bud Light the beer of choice if you’re looking for spontaneous fun.

The Banality of Bud Light Living

But what if you don’t have the four million dollars required to jump start a social campaign with a Super Bowl ad (or the three million to pay Arnold Schwarzenegger to star in it, for that matter)? Can you take the same lifestyle-centred concepts and apply them to more conventional, scripted forms of advertising?

If the returns on Bud Light Canada’s similarly-themed Super Bowl spot (“Anthem”) are any indication, the answer is “no”.

Intended to introduce the concept of “Bud Light Living” to Canadian audiences, “Anthem” takes viewers through an “epic” Friday night in the life of a twenty-something desk jockey. We receive a first-person play-by-play as he leads his crew into the night: shooting pool, singing karaoke, and of course hooking up with a cute girl (known only as “sandy-hair, freckle-face” – suggesting the objectification of women has a place in millennial marketing after all!).

Despite airing during Super Bowl 2014 and receiving a strong promotional push, the spot has yet to break one million views on YouTube. To date 75% of the YouTube reviews for “Anthem” have been negative, with negative sentiment toward the female version (“Girl’s Night”) even more pronounced (88% thumbs down).

So why do “Anthem” and “Girl’s Night” fail to resonate with millennial beer drinkers? While Hannah Jack does an excellent job of summarizing why “Anthem” is cringe-inducing for many millennials, ultimately the spot fails for many of the same reasons “Up For Whatever” succeeds:

  • As Jack rightly notes, every twenty-something beer drinker is familiar with the “pregame-cab-bar-food-bar-home” routine: it’s not particularly unique. The only difference is that you probably find your own friends a damned sight more entertaining than this merry band of karaoke-belting bros.
  • Heading out on the town and drinking a few Bud Lights doesn’t exactly scream “risk-taking wild man”. Aside from the perils of listening to drunken people shout along to Bon Jovi songs, at the end of the day these guys are still drinking four percent beers in a karaoke bar – not quite as thrilling as being whisked away by a mysterious limo into the night.
  • There’s no point during the spot where the action feels particularly inspired or spontaneous. If anything, the scenario is playing out by rote. Whereas social video content from other brands showcases the fantastical things that can happen when you leave your comfort zone (Heineken’s “The City” being a good example), “Anthem” really doesn’t push these boundaries in the same way.

Following a lukewarm reception to the spots, Bud Light Canada quickly switched their focus to promoting the “Bud Light Living Line”. Similar to the “Up For Whatever” campaign, the Bud Light Living Line is a phone given to random people – once you pick it up, something unexpected happens (Steve Aoki comes to your house, you get a briefcase full of cash, you’re duct-taped and driven into the desert, etc.).

While the videos haven’t set the web on fire, sentiment has generally been positive, with each instalment generating a few thousand shares on Bud Light Canada’s Facebook page (and more importantly inspiring far fewer angry rants than “Anthem”).

Seizing the day (and millennial dollars)

These are only two examples of how beer advertisers are using concepts centred on spontaneity and risk-taking to crack the millennial market.There dozens of examples out there, and undoubtedly many more to follow.

We’ve personally seen numerous briefs over the past six months seeking video content that focuses on “living in the moment”, as brands attempt to tap into this millennial thirst for adventure. Social video is becoming the go-to medium for beer marketers looking to connect with millennial consumers, and the demand for aspirational web series and product-sponsored short films continues to grow.

While this trend of “beer brand as ticket to spontaneous, non-threatening fun” shows no signs of abating, there’s an art to producing relevant content while staying true to existing brand values. Both Heineken and Carlsberg have shown that brands can create engaging long-form video content that connects with millennials without compromising their core values.

Ultimately while the medium has changed, the message largely hasn’t. We’re currently in the midst of an experiential advertising arms race, as big brands shell out millions to create memorable social marketing experiences for millennial beer drinkers.

The only difference? Instead of beer being your ticket to an unrealistic life full of beaches and babes, now it’s your ticket to an unrealistic life where every bottle of Bud Light is a life-affirming adventure.

More on millennial marketing

Please Don’t Associate Me With “Bud Light Living” – Huffington Post
Millennial Marketing Love Affair Lessons – Millennial Marketing
Millenials and Alcohol: Who’s Drinking What? – MarketCharts
What TV Shows Millennials Watch and How – Vision Critical

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