Anheuser-Busch is counting on smooth-jazz impresario Kenny G to add a few new notes to an increasingly appealing strategy for beer advertisers around the Super Bowl.
When the musician sounds his interpretation of a jingle for Busch Light beer that has been around since the late 1970s, he won’t do so in a national commercial during the Big Game, slated to air February 13 on NBC. Instead, he will play in a 30-second ad spot set to appear on local TV stations showing the event in 41 different markets. The song tells of a beer that “is cold and it’s smooth and it’s waiting for you,” and Kenny G believes it plays right into his wheelhouse.
“A beer that is full of smoothness?” he asks. “Who else but me should be the one who talks about it?”
Anheuser-Busch is the exclusive beer sponsor of the Super Bowl and will have plenty of national pitches for suds, but local ads often present a more cost-effective way to get the word out about a variety of products. Brewers are increasingly making use of the technique to keep costs down and, in some cases, get around Anheuser’s effort to put an advertising blockade around the Big Game.
Boston Beer is also relying on local ads this year, running a spot in 13 different markets that uses a robot to tout Sam Adams Wicked Hazy IPA. The local strategy isn’t new – Pabst Brewing Co., Heineken and Miller Brewing have embraced it in years past – but the brewers really poured it on last year. Diageo, Boston Beer and MolsonCoors all relied on local ads and, in many cases, digital-media accompaniments to fight for some degree of Super Bowl attention from the sidelines.
Putting together a media plan station by station helps marketers keep an eye on specific trends in particular regions of the country. The Busch Light ads will appear in “stronghold markets” like St. Louis and Kansas City, as well as places like Nashville and Buffalo, where the beverage is gaining new traction, says Daniel Blake, a group vice president at the large brewer who oversees the Busch Light business.
“We are excited to have this spot air in a lot of markets that haven’t been traditional strongholds for the brand that are really significant growth opportunities,” he says.
Anheuser-Busch is using four minutes of Super Bowl inventory to make pitches for Budweiser, new Bud Light products, two Michelob Ultra beverages and Cutwater Spirits. But it’s relying more heavily on the local strategy, buying out time on individual TV stations to promote not only Busch Light, but Michelob Ultra Pure Gold and Stella Artois.
Not all viewers will see the spots, but that’s OK. The rise of social media means that consumers can pass along a clip or a text about the commercials to friends. And the giant brewer can do its marketing at a fraction of the cost. Local commercials during the Super Bowl are typically higher than the norm, but they usually don’t approach the range NBC is seeking for a 30-second spot this year’s game, which is between $5.8 million and $6.5 million.
Kenny G is treating the Busch Light ad as if it were meant for the main stage on Super Bowl Sunday. He spent hours – as many as ten or 12, he says – creating an instrumental smooth-jazz update of the Busch jingle. “I’m pretty meticulous,” he says, noting that “it’s just a few seconds of a riff that I play but to come up with the notes, it was challenging.” He was “tweaking, listening, re-listening, resting my ears listening back over and over until I found something I felt worked well.”
The musician, who is known for albums such as “Duotones” and “Breathless,” was under some pressure to get his instrumental track completed. Anheuser-Busch reached out to him while he was out on touch in December, he recalls, and he knew he needed to have the music finished in advance of the commercial shoot, where he would act out the process of playing the song. “I wanted my fingers to hit” the right notes on camera, he says, so “I had to have it recorded pretty close” to the shooting date. There are three or four bloopers on tape, says Kenny G, who wonders if they’ll be released for consumers to see at some point.
Busch Light fans should get a kick out of the scene, says Blake, the beer executive. The brew’s core customer is “more of what we call a traditionalist, rooted in core values such as hard work and family and being outside.” But these consumers also like to laugh, he says. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.” You don’t have to be on national TV to do that.