Like others, the alcohol industry has been significantly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. With bars and restaurants largely shuttered, brands have to find new ways to get their products top-of-mind for a consumer who, well, maybe is still drinking quite a lot at home.
Shifts in consumer habits are changing the way alcohol brands are marketing to consumers. And doing so effectively, according to Anheuser-Busch’s U.S. CMO Marcel Marcondes, requires knowing exactly where the consumer’s head is at. Across its many brands, the marketing has changed, but the core message stays the same. Bud Light is helping bars while Natty Light is helping students. Michelob is staying true to its message by supporting gyms while Stella Artois is supporting restaurants.
Adweek talked with Marcondes about how the alcohol giant has shifted its ad strategy over the last several weeks—and how the pandemic is going to change the marketing world in the long run.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Adweek: How do you see the coronavirus pandemic changing marketing broadly, and how has it impacted Anheuser-Busch’s approach to marketing this year?
Marcel Marcondes: It’s a very interesting period in time. I have always been a big advocate of being people-centric, of really putting people first in everything we do so that we can make ourselves and our brands relevant to consumers, instead of trying to convince consumers to fit to what we do. In times like this, there is no other way to do marketing. Things are changing so fast, and people have so many relevant important needs, that the only way for you to really be relevant is by adding tangible value for people. So I’m a big believer that the world is going to be significantly different after this thing goes away. Marketing is going to get to a better place overall, because now there is no way out. Everybody has to focus on people and brands have to be extremely relevant for consumers if you want to have a chance.
So more than ever, we were using all the tools and other technologies we have to be as close as possible to people, so that we can understand how their behaviors are changing: as consumers, as shoppers, as human beings, so that we can really identify what they’re going through for the need for they’re looking for and how we can make sure our brands will be relevant for them. Never self-serving, but looking for ways to add value to their needs.
The first decision we made was to get out of advertising mode. And to get to this ‘relevance and action’ kind of mode. Long story short, we pivoted completely all the brand plans in our entire portfolio to really, really understand: “What’s the key consumer group that each one of our brands connect with, and how we could make sure that we would not be advertising, that we would be adding value to what consumers need in times like this?”
What are some examples of how you changed your marketing plans?
At the beginning, people were extremely concerned about how to fight the virus and whether we would have the right structure to address that. So this is why we connected our first initiatives on that theater. We converted our lines to do hand sanitizers. We reached out to leagues and sports teams to say, “Hey, let’s convert all the venues, as many as we can in the country into Red Cross support centers, so that you can support people.” And this is one of the things that I love the most because it’s really meaningful and we’re doing this already in many states and makes a big difference.
We saw people asking, “What should I do? How should I adapt?” So because the tone was very dramatic and intense, for natural reasons, Bud Light contributed by having a more lighthearted kind of tone—to reinforce the idea people should stay home, but given a slightly more optimistic view, like it’s just a temporary thing, it’s going away and we’re going to be fine. So the people could really understand that this was the right thing to do, and stay home. We did some interesting pieces of content for that.
And then we started to see people getting adjusted to the new normal, and a lot of behaviors change. For example, people are finding alternative ways to stay connected to to friends and family, so we see a lot of virtual happy hours and people looking for entertainment at home, to socialize and to have a good time. So with Bud Light we have series of music live streaming sessions like The Dive Bar Tour Home Edition. And with Busch, we have some trivia nights.