A-B InBev adapts to digital

14 June 2011

LEUVEN: Anheuser-Busch InBev, the brewer, is adopting a nuanced approach to digital media, emphasising results rather than specific strategies or budget levels.

Speaking to AdAge, Chris Burggraeve, the firm's chief marketing officer, argued the recession encouraged a widespread return to traditional advertising models, suggesting new media is still not yet fully established.

"The whole generation of managers that is there now, including myself, have been trained in the TV society and people go back to what they know: Show me the ad," he said.

"That's something we have to resist and say, 'OK, let's not go back to the good old days.' For us, TV is very important but it must be done differently than we did it before. "

While A-B InBev sells roughly 250 drinks brands, it has 18 core, or "focus", brands. These are seen as key growth drivers, and thus assuming a central status within its corporate and communications objectives.

"I have asked each focus brand to do is to think how to use digital in the smartest way," said Burggraeve.

"Some lend themselves more naturally to it than others, but everybody discovers a clever way to use it in the connection mix."

An example of this is tapping influential shoppers in New York and Toronto to become "ambassadors" for Stella Artois, offering inducements such as a first look at forthcoming products and exclusive information.

"We measure side by side … whether the behaviour and attitude are different and significant enough to warrant the investment," Burggraeve said. "And the answer is yes. They love the brand more, they are more loyal and they talk about the brand around them. They are the most powerful sales force we have. So we are scaling this."

In a further demonstration of the possibilities displayed by the web, it has enabled the roll out of global campaigns combining complex planning across many markets with a single, unifying message.

A-B InBev has previously partnered with Google, Facebook and Microsoft for international marketing initiatives.

Burggraeve said: "We have three global [brands] and if we can use our scale as a global company and leverage their scale as a global company in a no-barriers technology world, why wouldn't we?"

Elsewhere, it partnered with ESPN and Yahoo during last year's FIFA World Cup in South Africa to exploit popular enthusiasm for the event in a variety of countries.

Another trend facilitating these processes is that online firms have strengthened their capabilities, be it in appointing global account directors or building structures and procedures for multinational campaigns.

"The digital giants have started to organise themselves better," Burggraeve said.

As a client, Anheuser-Busch is also developing its own understanding of areas such as social media, which requires genuine interaction, instead of simply being deployed as a "push channel".

"Brands are allowed to be there as long as they play to the rules of the environment," Burggraeve said.

"If we start to use it for blatant commercial purposes, then the self-regulation mechanism of that community will push the brand out very quickly."

Similarly, when setting budgets, the company has avoided attempting to determine if there is an optimal - or what Burggraeve termed "magic" - proportion of expenditure that should be dedicated to new media.

"We are very careful about outcomes and not about the means to the end," he said.

"Digital helps us to connect with consumers in ways we couldn't before, but as a marketer, what I'm obsessed about is to track brand health on a monthly basis and how we achieve that is irrelevant."

Data sourced from AdAge; additional content by Warc staff