Budweiser Returns to Super Bowl, but Anheuser-Busch Won’t Just Serve Beer

Courtesy of Anheuser Busch InBev

Anheuser-Busch InBev has used the Super Bowl for decades primarily as a vehicle to sell beer. In a few weeks, however, the brewing giant will be serving a much wider array of beverages at the Big Game.

The company’s flagship beverage, Budweiser, will chart a return to the gridiron classic after staying on the sidelines in 2021 for the first time in 37 years. Yet Anheuser-Busch seems poised to use most of its four minutes of ad time in NBC’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVI to call attention to trendier potables which more consumers are imbibing. Gone this year are the usual commercials for good ol’ Bud Light. In their place: ads for Bud Light  Next, a zero-carb spinoff, and Bud Light Seltzer Hard Soda, a seltzer that uses bolder soda flavors to augment what has become one of the industry’s fastest-growing categories.

Also on tap: At least one spot for Cutwater Spirits, a line of canned cocktails, in the brand’s first national commercial; Michelob Ultra Organic Hard Seltzer; and, yes, an ad for Michelob Ultra, a beer aimed at consumers who prize healthy lifestyles.

“As we look to this year’s Super Bowl, we are excited to illustrate how Anheuser-Busch is accelerating its transformation and further adapting to today’s consumers,” said Benoit Garbe, Anheuser-Busch’s chief marketing officer, in a prepared statement.

Three beers, Busch Light, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold and Stella Artois, will get a smaller advertising spotlight. The first two beverages will be promoted in commercials slated to run in specific local markets, while Stella Artois will appear in a  pre-game spot on NBC, as well as in local ads slated to appear in local inventory on stations located in markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Anheuser-Busch often has an outsize influence on the tone of the annual football extravaganza. The company is  one of the biggest annual spenders in the Super Bowl, and is estimated  to have spent around $53 million on ads during CBS’ broadcast last year of Super Bowl LIV, representing 11% of overall revenue from the event. NBC has been seeking between $5.8 and $6.5 million for a 30-second slot in the event, slated to be broadcast on Sunday, February 13, from Los Angeles.

In different years, Anheuser’s ads commercials have inspired viewers. A 2002 spot featured the company’s stately Clydesdales bowing to the site of the former World Trade Center, destroyed by a terrorist attack in 2001. Others have made people laugh by using bizarre animals (frogs), clever catchphrases (“Whassup?”) or animated beer bottles playing football (“Bud Bowl”). The commercials can also spur a nation to check its own soul. In 2017, a spot played upon the immigrant roots of company founder Adolphus Busch at the start of the conservative Trump administration.

Anheuser’s 2022 ads will likely bring equal amounts of comedy and drama.

Bud Light commercials are known for their nod-and-wink humor, and this year’s crop are expected to aim for the funny bone. The ad for the zero-carb extension will examine what might be possible when “there’s zero in the way,” Anheuser says, while the spot for the new soda-flavored seltzer will “take place in a magical land full of flavor.” One spot for Michelob Ultra is expected to feature famous athletes in a friendly competition.

Anheuser-Busch intends to use the Budweiser ad to reflect the current era. The commercial will offer a sentiment “that recognizes American resilience.” No immediate word was available on whether the spot might use the Clydesdales to deliver the message.

The company typically focuses on commercials for the national stage, but last year began to run ads for Cutwater and Stella Artois in specific markets. Local ad time is significantly cheaper than NBC’s national Super Bowl inventory, and helps the brewer fend off rivals. While A-B is the exclusive beer sponsor of the Super Bowl, its favored status doesn’t apply to ad time sold by local TV stations and NBC affiliates, and competitors have begun to take note. In 2021, Diageo, Boston Beer and MolsonCoors all snatched up local commercial time to promote their brews on the fringes of the game.