Richard Oppy, VP Global Brands, Budweiser
How has the Budweiser brand reacted to situations such as COVID-19, racial tensions, political instability, and all of the other problems of this anxious world?
Budweiser brings people together and inspires people to seize their opportunities and fulfill their dreams, regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or gender. We oppose discrimination of any kind. What I like to say is ‘everyone’s welcome in our pub’.
When the pandemic hit, we were probably more prepared than others because our biggest market globally, by a long way, is China. We learned a lot from our China team and their response to the crisis; everything from health & safety of our people, which is clearly our number one priority, to immediately helping people in the community in a time of need, the way they looked after their marketing investment and other key learnings.
At the onset of the pandemic, we halted all our Budweiser marketing campaigns and pivoted funds towards supporting frontline workers around the world. As most people know, Budweiser is a well-known sponsor of sport, but it was our frontline team that needed our support. Budweiser and our affiliate companies donated hand sanitizer, made in our breweries, as well as masks and other much-needed frontline supplies. In addition to creating supplies, Budweiser also provided financial donations. For example, in the US, Budweiser redirected sports and entertainment investment of $5 million to support the American Red Cross.
Then after people had been locked down for a number of weeks we did a pulse survey across multiple markets and it was evident that people over legal drinking age were feeling flat and lonely, wanting a break, and very much needing a laugh. We jumped into action and recreated the iconic ‘Whassup?’ Budweiser campaign that went viral around the world back in 1999. We used the original cast, recorded new audio and dubbed over the calls in the advert to remind people to check in on their buddies during quarantine in a light-hearted way that made people smile. It was very well received – at the time it launched we had 65 million PR impressions and social engagement which was three to four times over our benchmarks.
Is there one recent high profile move that has made you personally really proud?
What I’m really excited about is our ‘better world’ program. We believe in a brighter future and this is only possible through renewables. We recently made a commitment that by 2025, Budweiser will be powered with 100% renewable electricity. We showcased this commitment in our 2019 Superbowl ad, ‘wind never felt better’. We currently produce six billion bottles of Budweiser with 100% renewable electricity. We hope to grow this to 15 billion bottles by 2025.
Our long term power purchasing agreements have resulted in 1 billion watts of additional renewable energy being added to the grid, as we re-power breweries around the world. With the scale and reach that Budweiser has, we’re really excited to give people the opportunity to help the planet through their everyday purchases. In 2021 we’re going to take this to another level and make a significant step up in our commitment. I believe, coming off the back of COVID-19, these commitments are more relevant than ever. This is something I’m really proud about and I truly think will make a big difference.
What would you say has been the biggest lesson for the Budweiser brand in all of this?
I think that the biggest lesson for me is that it’s never been more important for brands to be truly consumer-centric. Not just talk about consumer centricity, but live it, because I think it can become a bit of a buzzword in the industry. This is imperative in order for brands to be relevant in people’s lives and add value to people’s lives.
Over the last six months in particular, it’s become really important to be clear about what your brand stands for; so that you can authentically contribute to a social conversation.
In the case of Budweiser, as I touched on earlier, we focus on inspiring and enabling people with self-belief, determination and confidence to seize opportunities and to go after their dreams. The reality is, though, life’s hard, and it will be bumpy as we ‘ve seen over the past few months. What’s really importance is how we handle these bumps in the road as we chase our dreams.
How would you say that the last, six to 12 months have reaffirmed or changed your view on how brands need to exist, now or in the future?
The biggest difference is the pace which we now need to operate in this digital world and the agility that’s required to remain relevant. When I started in marketing 20 years ago, it used to be so much easier – we used to have a brand plan that was centered around a new big TV campaign, with one or two sponsorship properties we would activate against. But the game has changed drastically. Even more so for global brands – you need to be agile.
As I said, you must be super clear what your brand stands for, and what role your brand needs to play in the portfolio. Stay close to with social listening to really stay intune with culture around the world. When there’s that intersection, or overlap, between what’s relevant in society and what’s relevant for your brand, that’s the time to go all in and land the brand point of view.
What’s next for the Budweiser brand? Where will you be focusing in the future to make sure that you continue to grow and succeed?
Growth and expansion across emerging markets continues to be a major focus for us. This is where we see significant growth in the future.
When it comes to brand purpose, we don’t just want to inspire people to seize their opportunities and fulfill their dreams; we also want to be an enabler for people to fulfill their dreams. One really good example at Budweiser, is a recent program we’ve launched with a senior brewmaster named Natalie Johnson. She was the first black female brewmaster in St. Louis, and in her honor Budweiser just announced the Natalie Johnson UNCF (United Negro College Fund ) scholarship. It will offer more opportunities to encourage black talent to join the brewing community. It’s a fantastic example of how the brand enables people to fulfill their dreams and we’d like to see more of this happen around the world.
Another focus area for Budweiser, when you talk about growth and transformation, is how we are leading the way in the digital space, which is evolving so quickly.
We ask ourselves, how we can be a standout in in full-funnel marketing? Not just building awareness at the top of the funnel and landing our purpose, but also, how do we go about driving conversion at the bottom of the funnel?
China is by far our biggest market around the world. When it comes to their digital ecosystem, building one-to-one relationships, creating content that is personalized at scale, and ultimately then converting people at the bottom of the funnel to buy our products through digital, there’s no doubt China is leading the way. This is an area that we want to really accelerate and lead across the rest of the world.
We have an amazing team working on Budweiser around the world and we couldn’t be more excited about the future.