Bud Light Seltzer provides a template for successful innovation

February 8, 2022

Bud Light Seltzer provides a template for successful innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic caused unprecedented disruption for CPG brands due to supply chain issues and major shifts in shopping behaviors. However, it was also a time when innovation thrived as shoppers sought any form of novelty while stuck at home. Trial wasn’t always optional, with many customers turning to new products when their stand-bys weren’t available.

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One of the most successful launches of the pandemic was Anheuser-Busch’s Bud Light Seltzer. Anheuser-Busch sought to tap into the growing hard seltzer trend in 2020 with a brand extension promoted through an omnichannel campaign that included Ibotta offers. The brand launched ahead of the Super Bowl and was the year’s top new product pacesetter according to IRi’s annual report, earning $194 million in sales across grocery, drug, mass merchant and dollar stores and another $167 million from convenience stores. While the surge in at-home alcohol consumption caused by the pandemic contributed to some of the brand’s success, an examination of the tactics Bud Light has used to launch and grow the brand provides a template for innovation.

The brand launched with a Super Bowl spot starring rapper Post Malone, who goes into a convenience store looking for Bud Light and encounters the new Bud Light Seltzer. After trying the drink, which is described as tasting “light and refreshing” and not at all like Bud Light, he decides to buy both the new product and the original brand. Hard seltzer has become popular across genders while beer continues to be primarily marketed to and consumed by men. Anheuser-Busch ran ads for both its established beer brands and Bud Light Seltzer during the game, allowing the manufacturer to better capitalize on the growing number of female football fans.

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While many brands paused marketing efforts when the pandemic hit, Bud Light Seltzer pivoted instead. In May 2020, the brand launched “Bud Light Seltzer Sessions,” a series of virtual concerts livestreamed on Bud Light’s YouTube channel. Viewers were encouraged to donate to or volunteer with the American Red Cross and to order takeout from local bars and restaurants. Most of the participating artists had planned tours that were cancelled by the pandemic. The partnership gave the musicians a way to reach their fans while giving the brand to build brand awareness. Bud Light continued utilizing those relationships with a New Year’s Eve livestream featuring Post Malone. When restrictions eased in 2021, the brand sponsored space at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago and a tour from country singer Chase Rice that tied into his hit single “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.”

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Bud Light Seltzer tied into the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, joining with Tostitos, Clamato and Tajin for in-store displays that offered codes for free Drizly delivery. Bud Light Seltzer continued to leverage key summer marketing events by tapping into the celebration of Independence Day by running an offer with Ibotta that provided $3 cash back to shoppers that bought a 12-pack of the brand along with a package of marshmallows from any brand. Part of Ibotta’s July Essentials Sparkling Savings event, the deal was promoted in a “Red, white & booze” Ibotta email blast that also encouraged Savers to “invite s’more friends, earn s’more cash” using a code that awarded $8 cash back for a successful referral.

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As a Millennial-focused brand, Bud Light Seltzer made memes part of its marketing campaign starting with the launch. The brand decided to hire a “Chief Meme Officer” through a contest running from Aug. 17 to Sept. 18. The winner of the title was paid $5,000 a month for three months to come up with memes to share on social media. A concurrent sweeps awarded three month’s worth of Bud Light Seltzer. The novel promotion helped build buzz around the brand with earned media placements in publications including USA Today, The Takeout and Thrillist.

The brand then transitioned back into football marketing, running an NFL Homegate sweeps from Sept. 28, 2020 through Feb. 7, 2021. Consumers entered online or via text to win one of 95 packages including a cornhole set, a 50-inch television, a tent and a smoker grill. The new year also brought a new Super Bowl spot, with Bud Light Seltzer introducing its new lemonade variety with an optimistic ad encouraging viewers to make the most of what a lemon 2020 was.

Anheuser-Busch has continued to put plenty of work into marketing the brand. Bud Light Seltzer participated in Ibotta’s 2021 Cinco de Mayo Essentials event with an offer that also plugged sibling brand Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer. This year’s Super Bowl spot stars Guy Fieri declaring the drink the “loudest” flavor ever.

Launching a brand and maintaining its momentum requires immense effort and complex strategy. Few CPGs have the resources of Anheuser-Busch, but anyone can learn from their proven tactics and smart marketing during key seasonal events. Six of the top 10 food and beverage IRi Pacesetter brands of 2020 ran offers through Ibotta, with Ferrero USA’s Kinder Bueno providing cash back in April to tap into Easter while Beyond Sausage geared up for grilling season with a May deal. 

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Consumers are continuing to face major challenges from rising inflation and COVID-19 outbreaks. Brands looking to introduce new products in 2022 will need to reach shoppers across many platforms, providing them with savings to help them stretch their budgets while allowing them to buy in-store or online depending on their preference. Inquire here to learn how you can get your brand on Ibotta’s app and web extension and build an audience with our highly engaged young users. You can also view details on our upcoming seasonal events to find the best opportunity to build your brand during key shopping occasions.

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