How an alcohol ban demonstrated the power of agile marketing

From the adverts you see in a theatre programme to the emails you receive from brands you trust, marketing is all around you.

At some point in your life or career, you’ll have adopted a marketing strategy – whether that was to generate business or to promote yourself at a job interview.

Whilst there are basics that underpin a successful marketing campaign, sometimes reacting to events and having a plan B can turn a potential disaster into a great opportunity.

It’s a story that one of the world’s foremost beer brands, Budweiser, faced in November. Two days before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, football’s governing body, FIFA, decided to ban the sale of alcohol in and around the tournament stadia.

You may have seen Budweiser’s reaction to the news online, in a social media post they later deleted.

Joking aside, a business that had paid a reported $75 million to FIFA for its sponsorship contract suddenly had to completely change its marketing campaign just 48 hours before the start of the tournament. Here’s how they did it.

Creating the company’s largest ever global campaign

One of the immediate challenges Budweiser faced is that, with the tournament set to kick off, years of planning and logistical work was thrown into disarray.

The late decision led to the eleventh-hour dismantling of Budweiser tents at the stadia, and the company suddenly having millions of units that they couldn’t sell.

Sponsorship marketing expert, Ricardo Fort, told the New York Times: “There is a lot of work that needs to happen to be able to sell beverages. This country [Qatar] doesn’t manufacture or bottle beer locally.

“They would have to bring trucks from different countries to be able to transport the beer. They would have to bring in a disproportionate amount of refrigerators to store the beer at the concessions.”

Fort estimated Budweiser would have lost around $5 million on its operations in Qatar.

What Budweiser did next turned this problem into their biggest global marketing campaign yet. Instead of leaving the undrunk beer in Qatar warehouses, they decided to give it away.

Using the hashtag #BringHomeTheBud, Budweiser announced they would ship crates of beer to the country that won the World Cup, along with hosting an unforgettable fan party.

During the knockout stages of the World Cup, Budweiser also delivered #BringHomeTheBud branded crates to iconic locations around the world, including various locations in England, Brazil, and the US.

After Argentina won the tournament in a thrilling final, the company announced a series of victory celebrations at fan park locations in Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Cordoba. These celebrations featured musical performances, surprises in the red Budweiser crates to be revealed for fans at the party, and access to exclusive collectible merchandise to commemorate Argentina’s win.

Todd Allen, global Budweiser vice president, said: “We are thrilled to #BringHomeTheBud to Argentina, bringing fans together in celebration over the Argentina national team’s monumental World Cup win.

“We couldn’t wait to bring their epic victory home and to celebrate with the players and fans as we wrap up our largest global campaign to date.”

Budweiser kept selling beer in Qatar

Having spent millions on sales infrastructure in Qatar, Budweiser did what they expected to do as tournament sponsors: they sold beer.

Communicating their decision to bar the sale of alcohol in and around stadia at matches, FIFA said they wanted to “focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues”.

So, Budweiser continued to sell beer at other locations in Qatar, including hotels and fan parks, for the duration of the tournament.

It’s also worth remembering that the sale of beer at venues in Qatar was only a very small part of what Budweiser – the World Cup sponsor for 36 years – expected to get out of the relationship.

The global event is seen by millions, enabling Budweiser to promote their products in pubs, restaurants, and retail outlets in more than 70 countries. They also aired TV advertisements with football icons Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr.

So, the focus of the world’s press on this issue likely boosted Budweiser’s profile. Like they say, no publicity is bad publicity.

A speedy pivot to low-alcohol beer

While FIFA decided to prohibit the sale of alcohol at Qatar stadia, they did allow Budweiser to sell their “Budweiser Zero” low-alcohol products.

Rather than railing against the ban, Budweiser chose to release a statement promoting its Zero product.

The FT reports that UK sales of low-alcohol and no-alcohol beers have almost doubled in five years, so accelerating the company’s “Drink Wiser, Cheer Better” campaign fed into a growing demand for alcohol alternatives.

This was a clever ploy, considering the business already had plans to increase the sale of its non-alcohol product.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reported that Budweiser wants low-alcohol and no-alcohol beer products to make up at least 20% of its global beer volume by 2025. The current figure stands at 6.63%, according to a company report published in February 2022.

Sitting alongside Coca-Cola in the stadia, Zero became a genuine alternative for fans at the tournament. In the desert climate, advertising even encouraged visitors to drink a Budweiser Zero alongside their beer at fan parks, with the message “Hydrate Between Buds”.

Let’s leave the final word to Kudzi Mathabire, global director of experiential marketing at Budweiser’s parent company, InBev: “This is Budweiser’s biggest campaign ever, a truly global campaign that touches more than 70 countries.

“Through the [Budweiser] campaign we really get an opportunity to bring people together and solidify our longstanding involvement in football. [It’s] an opportunity to continue the legacy.”

Download PDF.

You are now leaving the HFMC Group of Companies websites
Skip to content