Budweiser skips Super Bowl, reallocates ad budget to COVID-19 support

Dive Brief:

  • Budweiser will not run an ad during the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years, according to a press release emailed to Marketing Dive. Instead, the AB InBev brand will reallocate its Super Bowl media investment to support COVID-19 vaccine efforts throughout the year.
  • A digital short film, “Bigger Picture,” launches today and is narrated by Rashida Jones. The spot focuses on American resilience during the past year and highlights healthcare workers who were among the first to receive the vaccine.
  • The campaign kicks off phase one of Budweiser’s plans around COVID-19 vaccine awareness. The company will also donate a portion of its 2021 ad airtime to the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative’s Vaccine Education Initiative.

Dive Insight:

Budweiser becomes the latest major advertiser to skip the Super Bowl, but the first to publicly divert its big game media spend to a purpose-driven effort. By launching its efforts to support COVID-19 vaccine awareness and education around the Super Bowl, the AB InBev flagship can potentially tap into interest around how brands are approaching what is typically one of the top marketing opportunities of the year — even if the company isn’t airing a spot during the game.

The “Bigger Picture” short film takes Budweiser’s inspirational, all-American brand voice evident in its 2020 Memorial Day digital video and applies it to the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations, using a familiar celebrity in actor-writer-director Rashida Jones as the narrator. Highlighting healthcare workers who were among the first to receive the vaccine is a similar approach to those taken by many advertisers during the pandemic’s early stages, when ads often focused on frontline workers.

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Budweiser donating a percentage of its 2021 ad airtime to a nonprofit push around vaccine education follows a similar effort from its parent company last year. As the pandemic took hold in the U.S., AB InBev announced it would redirect $5 million of its sports and entertainment marketing spend to the American Red Cross to support coronavirus-related efforts. By reallocating its airtime — and helping to air Ad Council ads instead of its own — Budweiser can avoid claims of woke-washing around its efforts.

“Like everyone else, we are eager to get people back together, reopen restaurants and bars, and be able to gather to cheers with friends and family,” Monica Rustgi, VP of marketing at Budweiser, said in a press release. “To do this, and to bring consumers back into neighborhood bars and restaurants that were hit exceptionally hard by the pandemic, we’re stepping in to support critical awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Breaking a 37-year streak makes Budweiser one of the most prominent marketers to skip the Super Bowl this year amid concerns about how the pandemic will affect the big game and the larger marketing world. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Ford and Hyundai are among the major brands to forgo a Super Bowl ad this year. Sister brand Bud Light is the official beer of the NFL through the 2022 season.

However, parent company AB InBev is still advertising in the Super Bowl, with four minutes of ads for Bud Light, Bud Light Seltzer Lemonade, Michelob Ultra and Michelob Ultra Organic Seltzer — four of its best sellers, especially among younger viewers, according to AP.

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