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Should the beer giants run ads in the superbowl?

January 30, 2006

With just under a week to go, America’s giant brewers are fine-tuning their efforts to entertain the 90 million who will be watching next week’s game. They are indulging in an expensive pursuit by trying to get a precise hit on America’s masculine zeitgeist and funny bone. Aim too low or too high and risk ridicule. Of course, the ads are tested to death to make sure failure doesn’t happen, but sometimes this testing doesn’t get it right. Budweiser alone is conducting focus groups this week with more than 500 people, to help cull its pool of 50 spots to a desired 10.

This year, there’s more pressure than ever for these ads to perform. Beer is up against the ropes and being attacked by spirits and wine, America is getting older and richer and its taste is becoming more sophisticated. While in the core, twenty something demographic, there’s an increasing quest for the combination of sexiness and sophistication.

With all the trading up that appears to be going on, does it still make sense for the beer giants to be advertising in the Superbowl? The sweaty battle of giants over pigskin only seems to reinforce beer’s blue-collar image.

However, the beer giants need to sure up their core and they need the Superbowl to do it. In the era of mass fragmentation, it’s the only event where they can reach so many eyeballs on mass. With the spots costing $2 million to air and at least $1 million to produce, all beer brands are trying to ensure their ads live way beyond the event itsel and are aggressively using the internet to make this happen.

While the Superbowl isn’t the strategy that will save beer, they have to be there. The issue is what else do they need to do?

They will try an industry wide campaign to tout the finer points of beer, but that seems to be flying in the face of billions of dollars of investment in frat house jokes.

They could be investing in smart technology to help people find their breweries and bars, like the Beer Mapping Project has done in using Google maps.

They certainly need some product and packaging innovation to bring some sophistication to the category. Imaginative ideas like encouraging restaurants to pair beer with food , could be the way to go.

While creating and crafting new higher-end products, they may also need to play a more aggressive game in the promotional area at the low-end. Here, imaginative programs like the one Japanese brewer Ashai ran recently, giving away robots, can only help their business.

What’s certain, is given the changing beverage climate, the Superbowl, while still the pinnacle of beer marketing, is becoming less relevant by the year.

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