Beer Wars: As Budweiser's exclusive hold on Super Bowl ends, rivals gear up for shot at big game
Rival beer brands waited three decades for Anheuser-Busch’s exclusivity over Super Bowl alcohol advertising to cease. And mere seconds for one of them to decide to reenter the fray.
"In the summer," says Sofia Colucci, global vice president for Miller’s family of brands, "we found out our competitors relinquished exclusivity for the Super Bowl. And the decision to buy a spot took us less than a minute.
"We were adamant about that."
On Super Sunday, then, viewers won’t be limited to just the Bud Bowl, the Clydesdales or well-toned Michelob Ultra drinkers warding off a midlife crisis. Molson Coors, parent company of Miller and Coors, will diversify the field with a spot for at least one of its brands as a new era of advertising for the big game arrives.
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Though Molson remains cagey about which of its favored lagers will be featured in a spot expected to cost $7 million for 30 seconds, the field is undeniably altered. Anheuser-Busch’s loosened grip on game exclusivity – stretching 33 years, to 1989 – is the latest twist in a strategy shift that began in 2021, when it opted not to feature its anchor brand, Budweiser, in the Super Bowl.
That broke a 37-year streak of Super Bowl advertising for Budweiser, and after a return last year, Bud will opt for regional ad placement. Anheuser-Busch instead will place Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Busch Light spots within the game.
And for the first time this century, it will have company.
Heineken will showcase Paul Rudd as Ant-Man to push its non-alcoholic beer. Among harder liquors, Rémy Cointreau will muscle into the space with a 60-second spot for its House of Rémy Martin after making regional buys each of the past two years.
And most notably, Miller and Coors Light will put forth its brands, teasing light-beer connoisseurs in their home markets of Milwaukee and Denver with billboards campaigning for their local brands to get the big-game nod come Sunday. In an unlikely union of legacy brand and nascent industry, Molson Coors partnered with DraftKings to allow fans to wager on which brand – Coors or Miller – will be featured on game day. The promotion lured more than 70,000 sign-ups in its first week.
It’s all fairly liberating for Miller and Coors, which for years found rogue manners in which to advertise around the game when they were locked out. Now, they have an invite behind the velvet rope.
"Football, no matter what, and the Super Bowl, are massive for us," Colucci says. "Even though we have had the constraint and haven’t been able to 'advertise' officially for 30 years, we’ve found the constraints have led to better creativity. We’re going to continue to take that approach.
"We don’t just look at it as a 30-second spot. We think of this as a really big moment for us, as an organization. We see this as an opportunity to galvanize not just these brands but the entire company and look at it holistically – not just in the 30 seconds but in everything we do."
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For Anheuser-Busch, the decision to relinquish exclusive rights to the game might have been easier than it appeared on the outside. While no alternative medium can match the more than 100 million viewers expected to tune in to the game, streaming and the limitless internet landscape have already dented any notion of exclusivity.
"It’s helpful to remember Anheuser-Busch has been and will continue to be the single largest advertiser in the Super Bowl," says Daniel Blake, group vice president of mainstream brands at Anheuser-Busch. "The three minutes nationally and 30 seconds regionally is by far the most amount of airtime among any single advertiser. We’re still showing up in a huge, huge way in the big game.
"But that said, part of the information that went into making that decision was that over the last five years or so, the Super Bowl within the alcohol landscape hadn’t really been exclusive. You saw the rise of regional ads, the rise of digital activations."
That’s one reason why Budweiser – and a relative A-list presence, Kevin Bacon – will be absent from the national telecast. Instead, a Bud spot riffing on the "six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon" conceit, with the actor's narration, will air in what it has identified as key markets.
Anheuser-Busch will highlight Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Busch Light, which will make its second Super Bowl appearance and first since 2017. The brands will lean on actor Miles Teller and wife Keleigh Sperry Teller, the '70s classic "Caddyshack" and, in a bit of a surprise, '90s singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan sending up her dark ASPCA commercial, respectively.
"Beer is really the most relevant industry during the Super Bowl," Blake says. "So making sure our biggest brands show up in a really big way is important."
Molson Coors has built a multiweek campaign around that concept.
It has maximized the drama about which brand – or perhaps both – will be featured, a heavily guarded decision that falls under the purview of chief marketing officer Michelle St. Jacques. Both divisions are keen to recognize the rare opportunity ahead of them. Even if industry headwinds deter an alcohol brand from paying big to gain exclusivity, there’s little sense in assuming the big game will be an annual opening.
"For us, it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," says Marcelo Proenca Pascoa, global vice president for Coors’ brands. "The approach is, if you have to wait 30 more years to be in the game, what we do now has to be so great that it makes it count for the next 30 years.
"The challenge now is to do something so remarkable that it’s going to surprise people. Soon, we will reveal more. When we do that, I think it will be pretty clear it will be something we’ve never done before."
And while the holy trinity of Super Sunday – booze, cars, wagering – will again command most of the attention, this time the field is wide open.
"We’re very aware of the competitor and the investment they make and the scale," Molson Coors' Colucci says of Anheuser-Busch. "But we feel that challenge and mindset has made us stronger. We think specifically for this moment in time, we’re in. Game on. The challenge is on."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: As Budweiser's grip on Super Bowl ads loosens, rivals gear up for shot