Brewing company Anheuser-Busch is a superpower Super Bowl advertiser this year with five spots. But that’s no surprise. Its beer brand Budweiser specifically is perhaps the most powerful and memorable Super Bowl advertiser of all time. But why exactly?
A Walk Down Super Bowl Memory Lane
Budweiser is the brand behind the infamous puppy that topped Ad Meter’s rankings in back-to-back Super Bowls in 2014 and 2015. But it’s also the advertiser that propelled “Whassup?” into the American lexicon in 2000 and thrust a trio of frogs to worldwide stardom. In fact, Budweiser has five spots, which also include its 9/11 tribute, Respect, and its military thank-you, Applause, in Ad Age’s Super Bowl Top 50 Countdown. In other words, Budweiser single-handedly accounts for 10 percent of the top Super Bowl ads of all time. That’s no small feat.
What’s more, Budweiser was the most popular brand in Momentology’s survey of 50 marketing professionals’ favorite Super Bowl ads of all time – accounting for 30 percent of the responses. In addition, a recent study from interactive television service TiVo and customer intelligence platform Vision Critical found Puppy Love to be the #1 Super Bowl spot of the last 50 years. And, once again, Budweiser was the most popular brand on the list with four ads in the top 10. Further, the study noted emotional ads with animals and children are most popular across demographics overall.
A Successful Formula
Budweiser certainly hasn’t been shy about tapping into the appeal of animals. Even 30 years ago, Budweiser was airing Super Bowl spots that paired dogs and Clydesdales – a theme it has revisited time and again. And, in 2009, its Circus spot with a horse love story not even a callous ringmaster can thwart, touched on themes similar to those found five years later in Puppy Love.
In short, if there’s a winning formula for Budweiser in the Super Bowl, it seems to be: Money + Animals + Patriotism. But if it was that simple, why aren’t more advertisers able to replicate Budweiser’s success? Marketers, take note: This is what you need to know to create Budweiser-like appeal in the Super Bowl:
1. TiVo was Right: Emotion & Animals
For his part, Duane Forrester, vice president of organic search operations at marketing and SEO firm Bruce Clay, calls Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads “emotionally attaching moments” in advertising. “Let’s look at the 2015 ad here. Cute puppy. Tough world out there. Danger. Courage. Loyalty. Family. Support. All concepts that shine clearly throughout the advertisement,” Forrester said. “Yeah, everyone knows the horses haul the famous trailer full of suds. But this ad isn’t about beer. It’s about us, the watchers, and what matters to us. The ad attaches the brand to concepts we hold dear, would lay down our lives for. It’s a classic story of what’s possible when you don’t give up and get a little help from your friends.”
In addition, Forrester said “it helps more than a little bit” that viewers have a tendency to anthropomorphize human feelings on animals and that American consumers certainly have soft spots in their hearts for pets.
According to a Budweiser rep, the brand has been an in-game advertiser since 1975. “How many Super Bowls has Budweiser missed over the last 30 years?” asks Ryan Berman, chief creative officer at communications company the i.d.e.a. Brand. “We can’t say this about many other brands. Whether it was the humor of the frogs or the current nostalgia platform of the Clydesdales, most of us think of Budweiser and the Super Bowl as synonymous. We’re not just judging them on the merit of one 60-second ad: it’s the full body of work over three decades – capitalizing on aggregated equity – that adds up. It’s the closest thing we’ve got to a very long movie sequel we actually want to see.” Further, Bruce Clark, associate professor of marketing at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, notes one consequence of Budweiser’s longevity is that the brand owns the concept of Clydesdales in consumers’ minds. “As a baseline, they can almost never go wrong with a Clydesdale ad, especially for older consumers,” Clark said. In addition, Budweiser has delivered on humor for the everyman, such as in Whassup and Frogs, and has also linked its brand to the game itself in Bud Bowls, Clark added. “I can’t think of another advertiser that has done this so well for so long,” Clark said. “There is a reservoir of good will and expectation around Budweiser ads in the Super Bowl that almost makes them part of the Super Bowl experience itself.” Further, consistency has also enabled Budweiser to build a brand synonymous with certain emotions and to reinforce its desired brand cues, said Josh Berger, vice president at marketing consulting and analytics firm Phoenix Marketing International. “The message is part of who the brand is, what it stands for and the message is authentic to consumers,” he said. “This brand cue is so strong that Budweiser can spend the other 51 weeks of the year with other brand messages like craft [beer] and concerts – but consumers know they can still come back on Super Bowl Sunday and see the next chapter in the Clydesdale story.”
One marketing professional who has worked on previous Budweiser Super Bowl campaigns, John Immesoete, who is now chief creative officer at marketing company Epsilon, says Budweiser deserves the title of Greatest Super Bowl Advertiser of all Time because it is the most focused on strategically attacking the assignment. Bud sets a goal – winning the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter Poll – and conducts all its resources against it. Agencies analyze what wins and develop many ads toward cracking the poll, he said. “Bud shoots way more ads than it airs,” Immesoete said. “It tests them in groups around the country that closely mimic the Ad Meter room and runs those ads that score the highest. The only thing left to chance is what the competition, who they can’t control, bring to the table.” In other words, Budweiser establishes a clear goal and does all it can to deliver on that singular goal. “By doing so, they have fewer failures and a collective body of work that makes them the greatest Super Bowl advertiser ever,” he said. “Smart planning combined with great creative resources and plenty of them. It’s no accident.”
Indeed, even though Budweiser may not always create the perfect Super Bowl ad with each attempt, Gary J. Nix, chief strategy officer at branding agency bdot, says it has created many quality ads by this point – and ads that have stood the test of time at that. And no advertiser could reach this point without a strong body of quality content.
In addition, Nix says Budweiser also benefits because the very product it makes is the perfect match for football, which further enhances its credibility as an anchor sponsor.