During the 2015 Super Bowl, Budweiser’s big game ad stood out, loud and proud, as a defiant middle finger to the rise of craft beer and all its hipster pretension. And while it perfectly aligned with the Budweiser brand image, it masked a very different reality for parent company AB InBev.
The iconic beer’s sales have declined, thanks in some part to the rise of craft brews, but more so due to the boost in popularity of hard booze. The likes of whiskey and tequila led spirits to top beer’s U.S. market share in 2014, for the fifth straight year. The brand can talk about macro-brewing and beechwood all day, but when some reports say that about 44% of drinkers between the ages of 21 and 27 have never even tried Bud, you’ve got a problem.
This week, AB InBev is officially unveiling a new beer brand that aims to target the drinkers that have been giving beer the cold shoulder. Oculto is a blue agave-infused beer, aged in tequila barrels, that’s branded with Mexican Day of the Dead imagery and clearly going for an innovative craft beer vibe (despite some not-too rosy early reviews). Just don’t expect a loud, brash TV campaign to announce it. AB InBev’s vice president of U.S. marketing Jorn Socquet cites millennials’ love of mash-up culture and mixing tastes as a significant insight that led to Oculto. The other insight is that people just really like tequila shots.
The brewer has had a lot of success with its other cocktail-inspired drinks–the popularity of Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita spawned an entire series, Straw-Ber-Rita, Raz-Ber-Rita, Lemon-Ade-Rita and Mang-O-Rita, that have been selling well (from $150 million in 2012 to $462 million a year later). But Socquet says aligning with an established beer brand wouldn’t get Oculto in front of the target audience of nightclub drinkers. “When you put a brand like Bud Light on it, you’re attaching it to that original beer experience,” he says. “These are consumers who will outright reject beer brands when it comes to these occasions. That’s why we’ve gone with a completely new brand here.”
The marketing strategy for Oculto will be primarily social and experiential, to meet millennial drinkers where they are–in the clubs and on Instagram. Socquet says it will involve sending “seductive individuals” wearing masks into bars and nightclubs to whisper secret messages into your ear. “If you’re up for it, you’ll have an interesting experience,” Socquet says, cryptically. “Some people will be up for it, some won’t, but we can guarantee it will be an Instagrammable or Facebook-worthy moment that people will be proud to put on their social feed.”
And that’s the main marketing goal. “If it doesn’t appear in the social feeds of our consumers, it’s like a tree falling in the forest that no one is around to see,” says Socquet. “If millennials don’t post something on Instagram, it probably didn’t happen. They want to curate their feeds to make themselves look more interesting, sexier and fun to their friends. So rather than us push the message towards them, we want them to become the brand ambassadors on our behalf.”
The mask motif goes beyond the bottle and ads, it also extends to what sounds like a Bros Wide Shut experiential situation for the Affliction crowd. “In all the experiential marketing that’s coming, our brand ambassadors will all be wearing masks, and we’ll invite consumers to wear a mask every time they step into our brand world to give them a shield to be a bit more daring than they normally are,” says Socquet.
While the beer hits select bars and clubs around the US this week, the main launch event will be in Miami in April. “I can’t really elaborate except to say it’ll be a physical location where consumers will be invited to step out of their comfort zone and into ours,” says Socquet. “It will really push their boundaries and every interaction with the brand will be an Instagram moment.”