These ideas may help the company thrive in the future and find even more excellent opportunities
Marketing & Growth
November 22, 2022
Put yourself in Budweiser’s shoes for a moment. The beer company has spent at least $75 million to sponsor the World Cup, one of the largest sporting events of the year. The company probably thought selling beer in Qatar, known for its strict alcohol prohibitions, would be difficult, but thought they had reached an agreement to sell alcohol in the stadiums, and other select areas. Then Qatar decided to ban alcohol sales in stadiums less than 48 hours before the start of the first game. AB InBev’s now deleted tweet, “well, this is awkward”, pretty much sums up their sentiment…
Without question, it’s disappointing news. As marketers who market to marketers, our hearts go out to the hard-working teams at Budweiser who have spent months, if not years working toward the 2022 World Cup (not to mention the fans who just want a beverage!). It’s not just beer companies that are worried, either. The Guardian reports that several other World Cup sponsors have “ brought up contractual concerns with Fifa following its late decision to ban alcohol from stadiums during the World Cup.”
Seeking compensation or other solutions through the legal process will take time. Regardless of the outcome, what else can Budweiser do? To answer this question, we’re turning to an unexpected place - wisdom from a long-dead Roman Emperor.
In his best-selling book, “The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph,” Ryan Holiday presents Stoic wisdom from ancient Greece and Rome. The book's title is based on an observation from Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 CE).
Marcus Aurelius wrote the following in Meditations, his book of reflections:
Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our understanding. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
Marcus was one of the most influential people who ever lived. Yet, he suffered great disappointments and frustrations, like a trusted friend betraying him and struggling through the Antonine Plague (which lasted for 15 years). With these Stoic principles in mind, what can brands like Budweiser do when they face disappointment?
No company, let alone a major event sponsor, wants to see its products prohibited from sale at a significant event. These ideas are no substitute for the company’s lost sales. Yet they may help the company to thrive in the future and find even more excellent opportunities.
Laws and social customs restrict alcohol consumption in many countries around the world. An estimated 14 countries, including Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Iran, Kuwait, and the Maldives, prohibit or, significantly limit alcohol sales.
Yet, there are millions of consumers in those markets. Traditional beer advertising campaigns are not well suited to these countries.
As the World Cup unfolds, we encourage Budweiser to pay close attention to how fans - locals and international alike - engage with its Budweiser Zero product. Ask staff on the ground to see how consumers like its alcohol-free product. For example, there may be new ideas to leverage - like being able to drink a lot during the competition without putting on weight!
For an alcoholic beverage company, the growth of the sober curious trend may be problematic. The market research firm Nielsen found that 21% of US consumers cut back on alcohol consumption in 2021. The key drivers for this behavior change include losing interest in drinking alcohol, going out less, and wanting to live a healthier lifestyle.
The sober trend is even more eye-opening when considering it from a demographic trend. Several research studies have found that Millennials, the largest US demographic, drink less than older generations. Generation Z adults are also telling researchers that they plan to consume less alcohol.
These trends present an opportunity to promote Budweiser Zero. In fact, Budweiser might go a step further and position its product against soft drinks. Budweiser has 50 calories, while a standard 330 ml (11.1 fluid ounces) cane of Coca-Cola Original has 139 calories. For consumers interested in losing weight or pursuing other health goals, Budweiser Zero might be a good fit.
Many traditional alcoholic beverage advertisements show people enjoying life while drinking. (We get it, drinking beer can be fun!) Yet, many people don’t want to drink alcohol. They might not like the taste, avoid alcohol for health or religious reasons or simply prefer other drinks.
Instead of advertising that subtly pressures everyone to drink alcohol, see this World Cup disappointment as an opportunity. Picture this - a commercial showing a couple planning a party and debating what drinks to offer. They could start with beer and then recall, “Hey, what are we going to serve to other people who don’t drink?”
It might not be the healthiest habit, but sometimes enjoying a beer after hearing awful news just feels right. Other brands have directly referenced disappointments in the news to significant effect. For example, Oreo famously created the dunk in the dark tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl when a power outage impacted the game. That fast Tweet received over 6,000 likes and more than 13,000 retweets.
There are a few ways to use World Cup disappointment as fuel. The direct approach: create marketing featuring the disappointed Budweiser staffers drowning their sorrows with their favorite beer! The indirect approach offers an alternative if that feels too on the nose.
Create marketing campaigns around a series of disappointments like:
Build a series of ads around each disappointment and then end with friends coming together to cheer up their friend with a peer. The message is simple: Budweiser is there for you when your life throws disappointment your way. Budweiser wouldn’t want to condone irresponsible drinking! Enjoy a single beer and company.
What if Budweiser had an environment where World Cup-style surprises simply couldn’t happen? Even better, what if that environment could accommodate vast numbers of beer fans from all over the world? That’s all possible by creating a virtual community directly on Budweiser websites. With Arena Live Chat installed, beer and sports fans can gather together to celebrate their favorite drinks and sports.
We get that suggesting brands like Budweiser “take their audience home” is self-serving, since our technology enables this, but it’s more than just a self-promotional tactic. The reality is that, like regional governments, 3rd party social media platforms can also change their minds about what’s allowed or not allowed on their feeds and betting your business, or $75M marketing campaign, on platforms that can disable your content with the flick of a switch may not be the best forward facing strategy.
The silver lining for AB InBev here is that they’re getting a lot of “free”global publicity. Was it worth the $75M, probably not, but, on the flip side, here we are, a SaaS company, writing a blog about beer. And there’s a lesson for every brand, publisher and influencer here: don’t trust your livelihood, and budgets, to organizations (political or technical) that can turn off your programs with the flip of a switch.
At Arena, we believe the technology, and the time, have arrived at a point where marketers CAN take their audience back from social media, and evolve their own, digital properties with social-media-like experiences that drive community led growth. Want to see how it works? Check out our world cup coverage page, or, if you’d like to learn more Contact Arena today to find out how you can grow a digital community on your own website - an asset that can’t be taken away from you!