Dan Fox
The views expressed in db Reader do not represent the views of the drinks business.

Carlos Brito, you’re being conned

It’s been three months since it showed up on the SuperBowl, so how’s Bud Light’s much-hyped #UpForWhatever ad campaign doing?

Budweiser Upforwhatever

Let’s ask Anheuser-Busch InBev’s boss of bosses, Carlos Brito.

“Some ‘very good signs’ that new Bud Light campaign ‘has lots of mileage,’ said Brito, noting that it’s ‘really designed for the digital space.’” – Beer Marketers Insights quoting the CEO of America’s largest brewer speaking to stock market folks.

“Bullshit.” – Hey Beer Dan rendering his view on all this to you, valued blog reader.

How do I know?

Two ways.

First, there is wide agreement that Carlos Brito is one tough CEO. Probably the toughest ever in the beer business, and that’s saying something. A hero of Wall Street, as we’ve said here before. He’s all about hard facts and the bottom line, the stuff “the street” loves. Cost reduction, margin gains, volume, return on investment. Especially that last one: a quantifiable return on a specific amount invested. Brazilian, Brito may be, but these sorts of hard numbers are his real native language; they reflect how he thinks.

So when a tough numbers guy like Brito starts using the soft, unspecific-but-unceasingly-optimistic feel-good language of the advertising spin masters, it suggests the boss has been bamboozled. He’d never accept claptrap like that from his financial guys.

What exactly are the “very good signs?” Fortuitous tarot cards? And is “lots of mileage” a good thing? Or a bad thing, as on a used car you want to avoid? Oh, and when a CEO virtually quotes his ad guys and almost apologetically says the campaign was “really designed for the digital space,” it’s backpedalling, a high art in the ad world. Implicit: “We always knew it wouldn’t work on TV.” Whose idea was it then to spend $8 million running it on the distinctly non-digital SuperBowl broadcast? Did I miss a Bud Light press release three months back telling how its new campaign wasn’t really designed for TV?

All this mushy language masquerading as business analysis ought to be unsettling. Especially considering who’s channeling it.

Second, when advertising campaigns work–in the digital space or the non-digital space… or the digital non-space– you don’t need soft numbers and Mad Men spin to prove it. Purchase- intent increases will prove it. Market-share gains will prove it. I’ve seen new campaigns produce those results in weeks, not months. And when you have that sort of hard-number proof, you don’t play coy and say things like we see some “very good signs.” Hey, there’s nothing to hide, no reason to be circumspect. It’s not like some other beer is going to ape the campaign and steal your thunder with #UpForSomethingEvenDumber.

I believe Mr. Brito did indeed see some sort of analysis of Bud Light’s #UpForWhatever campaign, almost certainly prepared by people desperate to justify their decision to air this odd body of work. What I don’t beieve, is that the analysis he saw accurately presents what Bud Light’s getting in return for its advertising mega-millions, digital and otherwise. These ads don’t make the beer seem at all distinctive or differentiated. They don’t provide any new information about the brand. They’re long on the good luck of a chosen few, all people you don’t know, and care about even less. Think about it: This exact campaign could have been created for any number of brands, and not just beers. Lamborghini, to name just one.

Here’s one of the latest from “the digital space.”

Lacking real business results from this campaign, the ad guys will keep talking about “mileage,” endlessly searching for “good signs,” and pompously advising to “give it a chance to work.” They’ll say being on the leading edge takes courage and patience.

They’ll tell you to ignore the numbers and trust your gut.

And, Carlos, they’ll have it exactly backward: Trust the numbers and ignore their gut.

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