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Inside Budweiser’s Super Bowl Ad Strategy

Budweiser’s 2015 Super Bowl campaign was a sophisticated display of 360 degree, cross-channel activation. As the brand analyzes sales impact, we sat down with Chris Jones, senior digital brand manager at Budweiser, to discuss how his team used historical learnings to drive incremental success and their forward-thinking perspective on social’s role in the media mix.

Can you explain Budweiser’s content strategy during and surrounding the game?

Chris Jones (CJ): To frame it up, we had two campaigns running around the Super Bowl this year. The first was “Lost Dog,” which was very much guided by last year’s success and some key, powerful insights we’ve gleaned around the meaning and value of authentic friendship among our audience.

Separately, we launched an equity campaign intended to reintroduce Budweiser to America. We did this through our “Brewed The Hard Way” spot, which debuted during the Super Bowl itself, without any pre-game flighting.


Can you comment on the unique goals you wanted to achieve with each?

CJ: We know that America expects to see the Clydesdales during the Super Bowl season. At the same time, a perennial challenge for the brand is driving consumption and positive brand perception with the Millennial demographic, and we saw the opportunity to address that challenge in a meaningful way during those special few weeks when we know consumers are most attentive and receptive to advertiser messaging. Beyond the traditional media performance metrics, addressing these challenges was a paramount objective of our “Brewed the Hard Way” spot.

Did enhanced targeting precision, possible through digital advertising, drive efficiencies against Budweiser’s business goals?

CJ: It absolutely did. It was an exercise in real-time optimization. We didn’t necessarily know what response to expect from “Brewed The Hard Way,” targeting non-consumers, lapsed buyers and heavy craft-beer consumers. So when it became clear what platforms and audiences were driving conversation and sentiment, we shifted our proactive response messaging, as well as our amplification resources, accordingly. SocialCode helped find consumer pockets who needed to hear the message most and with whom it would land most effectively.

“SocialCode helped consumer pockets who needed to hear the message most and with whom it would land most effectively.”

Can you explain why you chose to seed “Lost Dog” before the game while turning “Brewed The Hard Way” into more of a big reveal?

CJ: The immediate metrics — earned media, cost per engagement, cost per video view — are always going to say pre-release. But, if you want to make a statement, releasing during the game is a potentially strong route. That’s what drove the release strategy behind “Brewed The Hard Way;” there was an element of doing the unexpected we thought we could benefit from. We were also keen on this spot getting its proper, due attention, which would have been a challenge had we pre-released it amidst the frenzy of the “Lost Dog” campaign.

It’s easy to look at numbers in the moment and evaluate campaign success on them. But the true test of our success, which can inform future release strategies, will be in the medium-to-longer term sales that show whether the decisions we made created a true, lasting impact on the brand.

“The true test of our success will be in the medium-to-longer term sales.”

How did you deploy learnings from past campaigns to make smarter decisions and drive incrementally better results?

CJ: Last year, we found a winning formula with the “Puppy Love” spot. It wasn’t that surprising, but our consumers responded well to the emotional message of true friendship, and it created a lot of positive consumer sentiment. But, the campaign revolved mostly around the spot itself and then one or two hero pieces on our social platforms, which we amplified the hell out of. So while it performed well, we knew there was an opportunity to scale activation and evolve this into a true 360 campaign, which we did with the addition of a robust influencer strategy, retail components, and other elements.

Our mindset on social changed as well. The beauty of social is we can vary messaging according to the target, monitoring and optimizing in real-time based on where we see the most engagement. That said, we’re also well aware that engagement doesn’t necessarily correlate with sales. That’s precisely why we integrated a DLX ROI study into the campaign this year.


[Editor’s note: DLX ROI studies, powered by Datalogix, measure in-store sales lift from digital advertising]

So Budweiser is now treating platforms like Facebook and Twitter as channels capable of driving revenue with the same principles that apply to other media?

CJ: Absolutely, and we’re learning more and more about what elements are driving sales. It may sound obvious, but the most consistent learning we’ve seen over the last six months is that simple, high-quality product shots work, and drive the biggest sales lift with various consumer groups. We tried to apply that learning as much as we could to the “Lost Dog” campaign without taking away from the storytelling and the creative that we know works so well from an emotional standpoint. It was a balancing act.

Can you discuss the impact of earned media during the campaign?

CJ: We always strive to create content that’s shareable, and we had an aggressive earned-media KPI. I think a lot of the success this year can be attributed to our pre-release strategy. We learned that releasing the spot via digital 7-10 days before the game generates a lot of early momentum, since consumers are increasingly engaging in Super Bowl-related conversations earlier and earlier each year. That’s what allowed us to spend efficiently, and earned media only drove costs down.


Considering the ability to achieve low-cost learnings in real time, do you think consumer brand marketers like Budweiser will port digital insights to other channels in an effort to scale best practices?

CJ: The short answer is yes. Since digital platforms are so nimble, they allow us to learn and inform how we think about our creative across the board, TV included. Understanding this evolving dynamic will be increasingly important to winning in the connected, “internet of things” economy that is taking shape as we speak.

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  • Ben Weiss, Marketing Content Strategist

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