When Tony Ponturo recently told OMMA conference-goers that Anheuser-Busch planned to maintain Bud.tv despite its setbacks, it didn't elicit wild cheers or a collective sigh of relief. It did raise a question, though: Why keep Bud.tv going?
While some may applaud the company's dedication to online marketing, the idea seems a little like leaving an open beer in the fridge in hopes it will get its fizz back. Better to dump it and start fresh.
Anheuser-Busch's plan to launch an ambitious branded entertainment network with Hollywood-caliber content sputtered when Bud.tv failed to draw significant traffic and its original content was panned. But with some $30 million invested in the effort, Anheuser-Busch appears loath to let Bud.tv die.
Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch and president and CEO of Busch Media Group, explained that if the company can keep learning from the site, it makes sense to continue. As an example, he pointed to its expletive-filled "Swear Jar" commercial, a never-seen Super Bowl spot, which garnered 3 million views on YouTube after debuting on Bud.tv. Without Bud.tv, no one ever would have seen it, Ponturo argued.
Here's a thought: Create Internet-specific viral ads and release them directly through YouTube and other video-sharing sites instead of a branded destination site no one goes to. If the big media companies haven't proven they can build successful entertainment networks online, how does Anheuser-Busch expect to?
With 40 different brand sites and other digital properties, the company certainly has a Web presence. Anheuser-Busch devoted 10 percent of its marketing budget to digital in 2007 and expects to increase spending in the category by another 10 to 50 percent next year, according to Ponturo.
One of the things Anheuser-Busch learned from Bud.tv was that its commercials proved more popular than the original content. Instead of pouring more money into a central site hobbled by age-verification restrictions, Anheuser-Busch should follow Coca-Cola's example by investing in more viral ads distributed across the Web.
The emergence of sites that present high-quality ads as pop culture, such as the recent NBCU-Microsoft joint venture Firebrand, are another alternative to launching a costly branded network.
Perhaps Anheuser-Busch should think of its online business more like its offline one. It doesn't sell beer from a central outlet in St. Louis but through a vast distribution network including warehouses, franchisees and mom-and-pop shops. With restrictions, that's how it should market online. Maintain its niche sites but let third-party sites like YouTube act as brand distribution hubs. Let Hulu, Joost and others figure out online entertainment networks - or if they work at all.