Parents and orphans
Success has many parents. When a brand's business is growing like crazy, the assigned ad agency readily accepts praise that its work is... working. On the client side, every member of the team also basks in the limelight, updating resumes to reflect the rosy business ("Assistant Brand Manager during the brand's dramatic growth") and making sure their LinkedIn self-accolades are focused on their own role, however inconsequentially small, in the success.
Neither Heineken nor Anheuser-Busch is blaming itself for their failed ad campaigns. Forget that the brewery people directed the agency, approved the strategy, chose the ad campaign from many alternatives presented, hailed the work, and giddily promoted it to distributors and trade press. When market results disappoint, it's the ad agency that pays the ultimate price. Long ago, responding to a certain young account executive lamenting the unfairness of all this, a wise agency chairman remarked on its inevitability. "'Twas ever thus," said he.
What's also inevitable for Bud Light and Heineken is a major change in advertising. The almost equally vapid "Open your world" and "Up for whatever" campaigns will be gone. What ought to replace them?
We are a broken record on this
Advertising serves one purpose: To communicate how your brand is distinctive and different from competition. If you choose the most powerful product-anchored difference, and successfully dramatize it, your audience will reward the brand with interest and purchase. They'll select your brand in place of others. Your business will grow.
This is where these two beer brands have failed... and in the exactly same way. Bud Light and Heineken both concentrated entirely on entertaining the audience with over-the-top action. Fantasy for Heineken; wild partying for Bud Light. Neither brand mentioned or implied, much less dramatized, any difference in the beer itself. This failing is all the more stunning in times when every brand in the fastest-growing segment of the business--craft beer--shares one thing in common: They are all built entirely on communicating differences in the beer.
So, what are the two huge BigBeer brands to say about their beer? The answer is strategic. It's a choice to be made by the brand-marketing team. And it must have a basis in fact.
Might Heineken cite "a taste of Amsterdam?" Or somehow find an intriguing product claim related to the medals displayed on its label? Or provocatively define "European pilsner?"
Could Bud Light's "delicate malt sweetness" be the reason every party's a little sweeter?
Or will they uncover and concentrate on some other difference?
The options are many if the brand-marketing folks care to dig deep enough, and apply their own creativity. Before they ever commission the making of ads, they need to tap into brand history, brewing process details, and ingredient sourcing. They need to seek out experts in these fields... who, after all, probably work in the same building. They need to distill, debate, and select the one difference they believe best distinguishes their brand.
And if these brand managers do this digging, conjuring, and strategy-crafting, think how much credit they can claim for the success.