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Bud Light on Secretly Creating Its Own Party Town: 'This Is Content Marketing on Steroids'


Bud Light had a major success with its 2014 Super Bowl campaign from BBDO, in which it ditched its traditional gameday dog and bro jokes for a real-world stunt that rewarded a random Bud Light drinker for being "Up for Whatever" by treating him to a spontaneous, celeb-filled epic night.

Conceptually strong, the work was well executed too, and won a gold Lion in Film Craft at Cannes this summer.

By the time of the Cannes festival, though, the Anheuser-Busch brand was already well into executing even an more ambitious "Up for Whatever" campaign from BBDO. It's been creating a whole mysterious Bud Light town called "Whatever USA" and inviting millennials—via a huge summer-long TV, social and in-bar campaign—to audition for a chance to be invited there in September for a weekend of all-out branded partying.

Bud Light brand director David Daniels said the real-world nature of the Super Bowl ad, and the element of unexpectedness it embraced, were hugely appealing to its target of 21- to 27-year-old beer drinkers—and inspired the brand team, too.

"There was one tweet we put on the wall here coming out of the Super Bowl. It said, 'I thought I heard helicopters outside. Bud Light. I'm up for whatever.' We've used that as inspiration as we've built out the campaign," Daniels said. "These are real moments with real people who have no idea what's going to happen, but they're willing to take a chance and embrace the unexpected, which is a very strong millennial insight."

The Whatever USA campaign kicked off in mid-May in the on-trade (i.e., on site at bars), with brand activation managers using a toolkit, including a camera, to audition people to be invited to the mystery town for the big event on Sept. 5-7. Consumers can also audition at UpForWhatever.com.

The brand has been posting some audition videos to YouTube:

"These are basically 10-second clips, where we ask them questions ranging from 'What's your spirit animal?' to 'What's your favorite dance?' to 'What are the three things you would bring with you to Whatever USA?' " said Daniels. "People are having fun with the answers, and it really helps show us who's up for whatever."

About 1,000 people will eventually be invited for the weekend, where various events (which the brand won't reveal) will also be filmed.

"This is content marketing on steroids," said Daniels. "We're capturing content all summer long in the on-premise promotions all the way up into and through the event. And our plan is to release some of that content in broader media channels immediately following the weekend."

The brand has already auditioned more than 100,000 people, and held 11,000 on-trade promotions. That's thanks in part to a major ad campaign that kicked off in early June, including new TV executions every two to three weeks (featuring the supposed mayor of this party town) and huge outreach online.

Here are the two most recent TV spots:

The campaign also includes fake news reports from Whatever USA produced by The Onion, as well as comical lists on BuzzFeed.

"We're reaching approximately 50 percent of 21- to 27-year-olds every week via Facebook," Daniels said. "And we should reach about 80 percent of the 21- to 27-year-old population an average of 50 times throughout the summer. There are a lot of resources behind this."

Bud Light won't say anything about the location of the town, or what exactly will go on there on the big weekend. "We even have people within the walls here who have no idea," Daniels said. In the town itself, he added, "We're just being very careful [to keep things secret]. As few people as possible know. So far, we're hoping we can maintain that."

Daniels acknowledges the element of secrecy in some ways makes it harder to promote the event. But the upside is more than worth it, he added.

"Anytime you're holding things back, it takes a little more work to get consumers engaged and excited," he said. "But the heart of the campaign idea is being up for whatever. And if you know what whatever is, then you can weigh your options. This is more about being spontaneous and embracing the unexpected. And I think young beer drinkers are giving us credit for staying true to that."

What will success look like for the Whatever USA campaign?

"We're looking at numerous metrics," said Daniels. "We expect not only some movement in brand health and perception, but we're also trying to drive persuasion. We're seeing some positive results in markets where we've executed the promotions. We're seeing some positive performance in the off-trade for Bud Light. And we'll have some consumer analysis—pre, during and post studies—to see if we've moved the needle in brand perception. Those are the top-line things we're trying to achieve."

Bud Light is no stranger to large-scale activations, of course, having done plenty of sweepstakes and events like the Bud Light Hotel and Bud Light Port Paradise. But this is a little different.

"What's a little bit unique about this is it's really as much of an on-premise retail and social-media platform as it is an experiential activation," said Daniels. "And of course, we've never created a town before."

Check out the earlier TV spots here:

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