Back in the 1980s, Bud Light was a brand on a mission. Anheuser-Busch had dangerously underestimated the potential of light beer. So Miller Lite got off to a fast, unopposed start and soon dominated the rapidly growing category. Coors Light was just beginning to come on fast, too. August Busch decided enough was enough, and belatedly entered the upstart light beer category. The first ads launched "Budweiser Light" and looked pretty much like dozens of other beer ads of the day. The only distinctiveness came from the Budweiser name, and the beer world already had a Budweiser. Sales were underwhelming. August was not happy.
Distinctiveness to the rescue
How to close the gap? Getting to number-one was precisely the challenge August Busch gave his ad agency. Failure was not an option. The King of Beers would not tolerate a second-place light- beer sibling. Bud Light needed to come off as a better light-beer choice than Miller Lite. It needed to be distinctive. And competitive. Here are two of the many ads in the campaign created to do just that...
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But whatever the ads may have lacked in hipness, they more than made up for in distinctiveness.The "won't-fill-you-up taste that never lets you down" claim differentiated the brand. And saying everything else--including Miller Lite--was "just a light," impugned the competition as less desirable, less of a beer. Before long, when people asked for "a light beer" at a bar, the waiter often responded with "A light or a Bud Light?" This ad campaign put Bud Light out in front to stay.
A case study?
Now, almost 30 years later, Bud Light just returned to its "Gimme a light" campaign, if only for a single national airing.
This was an opportunity for someone in the Bud Light brain trust to note that competitively selling the distinctiveness of the beer can pay real dividends. Surely one of the brand people must've seen that sales responded pretty quickly back in the day when vapid, entertainment-based ads were abandoned in favor of ads devoted to selling. Might the top marketing leadership now see the light (pun intended) and lead the way to new ads designed to actually sell more beer?
The Bud Light horse has been led to water. Will it drink?
Decide for yourself. The brand just released this new national ad...
Bud Light sales have already fallen 2.5% since this ad campaign first appeared earlier this year. That's the worst performance among the three major light beers, and it's getting even worse. As Beer Marketer's Insights just put it: "...while Bud Light keeps rolling out new ads, its volume loss accelerated last 4 weeks." In our view, that underlined bit should've begun with "because," not "while." The ads are causing the lost sales.
Looks like the stupid horse may die of thirst.