Beer Marketers Should Welcome NFL Lockout, Not Fear It
But the NFL lockout could be the best thing for beer marketing since Bob Uecker offered the unforgettable "I must be in the front row" for Miller Lite.
Yes, in the executive suites of Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors - and at their media agencies -- there is panic. The horror! Canceled games mean doomsday.
How on earth, they wonder, are we going to reach young male consumers without the highly rated NFL? How are we going to sell more beer if we can't run ads on Sundays as guys blitz to the store at halftime for suds?
Yet, in this era of the unending quest for ROI -- when there is hunger for measurement that can tie ad exposure to sales -- it makes sense to root for the players and owners to keep on fighting. Then, use the canceled games as a chance to test how valuable the NFL's marketing platform really is?
For that matter, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors should also be pulling for the labor standoff in the NBA to blow up that league's next season. Again, why not go for an isolation play, so to speak, and use the opportunity to gauge what happens with sales when NBA advertising goes away?
The labor wars offer a chance to experiment with other media, to find out whether there are equally effective - and much cheaper -- tactics besides paying a fortune to CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN for the NFL. The prospect of encouraging results should have both the league and networks on edge.
The trouble now is beer marketers can't slow down, can't take a step back and smell the malt and hops. MillerCoors has to try and keep up with Anheuser-Busch and neither wants to pull back on NFL spending for fear of giving the other an advantage.
A lengthy lockout would bring a forced non-aggression pact.
The leading beer marketers are smart and no doubt have crunched the numbers. But there is some evidence that their advertising in sports may not exactly be worth the price of admission. So why not throw some dice and look to improve the results?
In 2010, Anheuser-Busch increased ad spending on the NFL, NBA and NCAA combined by 2%, according to Kantar Media. And it was up 6% to nearly $150 million for the NFL.
Yet, sales of Bud Light and Budweiser together fell 2% to $7.4 billion, according to SymphonyIRI Group, which tracks sales at major retail outlets except Wal-Mart.
At MillerCoors, the results were more in line, but not particularly impressive. According to Kantar Media, its spending on the NFL, NBA and NCAA combined was up over 3%. For the NFL, spending was about flat at just over $100 million.
Sales for Coors Light and Miller Lite together were also about flat at $3.6 billion, according to SymphonyIRI.
With an NFL lockout, there is an opportunity to temporarily save tens of millions of dollars. (A crazy person would say take a portion to shore up other parts of the business.) And, there is the opportunity to undergo some marketing experimentation that could prove valuable going forward.
Go outside sports. Do the unimaginable, even outside TV. Find out whether a media mix heavy on innovative digital and social media gambits can at least keep sales steady. Pour more dough into Funny or Die, the Xbox, YouTube.
Yes, it's true these opportunities only reach small segments of men 18 to 34. And surely, there is no quicker and easier way to reach masses than a Pittsburgh-Dallas game.
But, if the evolving media landscape is going to propel more fragmentation, beer marketers will have to find other ways for aggregation.
On TV, there's the chance to find out whether college football and NASCAR - which may cost less - can be more essential than additive in light of an NFL-focused media plan. Can two World Series games replace three NFL ones?
Conventional wisdom is that any saved NFL money will not go into the bank or towards some sort of bold futuristic experimentation, but simply shifted to other sports in order to reach those desperately needed young guys.
Yet, if it must be TV, why not try some new stunts. Bud Light's brilliant "Real Men of Genius" campaign has to have some opportunities for integration with History channel's "Ice Road Truckers" or Spike's "Auction Hunters."
Coors Light's splendid campaign poking fun at football coaches by grabbing clips from their press conferences has ample prospects with politicians. Find retired politicos who don't take themselves too seriously -- think Bob Dole circa 1996 -- and run spots in the same vein during "The Daily Show" and "Colbert."
If beer marketers play it right, they may discover a lockout brings keys to something new.