David Saef

How Anheuser-Busch Redefined Experiential Marketing

By: David Saef | October 6, 2014 | 
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How Anheuser-Busch Redefined Experiential MarketingBy David Saef

If anyone can throw a good party, you know it has to be a multibillion-dollar beer company.

And that’s part of the thrill behind the Anheuser-Busch Bud Light “Up for Whatever” weekend in Crested Butte, Colorado, which took place in September.

More than 100,000 fans in the Bud Light target demographic auditioned to be invited to this 1,000-person party.

And from the branded airplanes, buses, and arrival gates to a painted main street and Bud Light-themed light poles, Anheuser-Busch pulled out all the stops to transform a small Colorado town into a millennial beer-lover’s paradise.

But while it’s clear Anheuser-Busch successfully created a Bud Light world, you might be left with two important questions:

  1. Does this extreme experiential marketing actually work; and
  2. How can it work for my brand?

Experiential Marketing for All

Despite the initial cries of legitimate small-town controversy—including commentary from former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth—this event was an overwhelming success for Anheuser-Busch.

It engaged its target market of 21- to 27-year-olds with punchy, trendy entertainment options, and it captured an arsenal of user-generated content for future promotional use.

And there’s more good news: You don’t have to throw a hot tub party turned national talent show to reap the benefits of a bold marketing move.

Here are three tips you can apply to your own brand of experiential event marketing.

1. Create an Immersive Branding Experience

Anheuser-Busch created a completely immersive experience for its fans by branding so many aspects of the event that the town was nearly unrecognizable.

The Bud Light participants saw everything from yoga and drag races to parties and ice cream.

Every element worked together to create a perfect stage for a branded Bud Light experience.

And those elements worked for a diverse target audience.

Whether your event is large or small, your marketing and branding efforts need to be just as potent.

Get creative and go for bold gestures to make sure it’s clear at all times (and in the background of all the photos and videos) that your company is the one behind all the fun.

2. Go Big or Go Home

Not many brands attempt an experiential marketing event on such a grand scale.

That being said, Anheuser-Busch wisely limited itself to 1,000 fans.

While that might not seem like a lot, it’s plenty for a small town such as Crested Butte. If the brand had tried to go even bigger in a bigger town, things could have easily gotten out of hand.

The scope and complexity of your event doesn’t have to mimic those of larger brands. What really matters is that your event numbers represent a significant percentage of participants in proportion to your company’s market.

It’s all about finding that sweet spot between too small to matter and too big to control.

3. Make it a Long-term Investment

Anheuser-Busch knew exactly what it was doing when it invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into this event.

(More than likely, the company made back that investment in its extensive content collection alone!)

Between the hundreds of thousands of fans who auditioned to attend and the 1,000 people who actually participated in the event, the company now has hours of engaging video and attractive testimonials of its key target audience displaying and praising the brand. 

When you plan your experiential event, make sure you position yourself to capture content you can leverage in the future.

Have attendees sign waivers granting permission to use their likeness in future advertising promotions.

Then, spend as much of your budget as possible on capturing high-resolution images and video footage.

While having Vanilla Ice serving ice cream probably isn’t a must, to see the same results for your experiential marketing event, you do need to be mindful of proper planning and execution.

Simply focus your efforts on nailing the scope and branding of your event and the interests and values of your target market, and you’re sure to create an experiential event worth remembering.

image credit: Anheuser-Busch newsroom

About David Saef


David Saef is the Executive Vice President of MarketWorks and Strategy at GES, a global event marketing company with a long history of connecting people through live events. The company has more than 3,000 passionate employees throughout the world who provide unparalleled service and consistent execution of breakthrough experiences that blend art and science to foster engagement.

  • I saw bits and pieces about this back when it was happening but didn’t fully grasp what was going on so thanks for the explanation and the factors to consider to make this type of effort a success!

  • I don’t even like Bud Light, but how can you turn your nose up at Vanilla Ice serving ice cream?!

  • Hi there David,
    Great overview mate, and nice to see experiential getting recognized in this way. I used to lead the social component of an experiential agency a few years back, and it was always fun to see how far we could push things.
    Having said that, I do have to wonder at what cost some promos come at. As you’ve alluded to in the post, there’s been numerous examples of criticism around this particular promo, with the local mayor coming in for criticism for whoring out the town, and residents talking about boycotting all AB products (and that sentiment has been seen wider afield than the town itself).
    Is viral buzz worth the negative sentiment promos like this can result in?

  • BMMarketer

    Maura_Howard DSStrategy SpinSucks “go big or go home”. You’ve got to admire that as a positive attitude.

  • Eleanor Pierce Was it vanilla ice cream?

  • ClayMorgan Eleanor Pierce If it wasn’t, I’m boycotting Bud Light. And Vanilla Ice.

  • molly_porter

    ginidietrich DSStrategy what was the hashtag for the event?

  • Interesting perspective. Other brands have tried different thinks. I forget which Scotch Brand had private clubs for the 25-40 crowd in every city. I just feel when your target is cost conscious binge drinkers who will switch to coors if they can get an extra si pack when it is on sale and whom will most likely stop drinking Bud brands if they seriously like beer as they get older and have more resources (exactly what my history was) would be interesting to see if the 1000 who attended can out influence the 99,000 who ditched the brand for not being chosen. Of course of the 100k who auditioned I am curious how many did because it would be a free party with free drinks and attractive people there to they can dream of hooking up.

    My guess the 50 people who went and did hook up will be passionate Bud brand advocates and the rest will forget the event as just another hipster party they went too.

    Kind of weird to have such risk with such little potential reward in my view. But great case study!

  • Danny Brown or is the question more about a brand with so much marketing dollars they expect to waste isn’t this a better waste of money than another beer commercial?

  • Eleanor Pierce ClayMorgan from an ex Elite level partier and socialite i dont think thid event was cool enough to attract the real cool people. lol Diddy wasn’t there and he crashes all free booze events.

  • Eleanor Pierce ClayMorgan i heard ginidietrich had one direction play on her uppity franzia boxed wine event last june.

  • Howie Goldfarb Beer commercials don’t disrupt people from their homes. They don’t devalue a community of people. They don’t take away democracy from a town whose residents only found out about the event once it had been secretly agreed on and the incumbent mayor bought off for $500,000.

  • btw totally stolen idea from MTV beach house. their scouts would go to some clubs i frequented on long island looking for hot people for their beach house pshow. this was circa 1990-92.

  • I love this campaign. I’m so glad you dug into it. I think what you note as far as scale of the event is super important. All organizations should repeat to themselves “Anheuser Busch limited their even to 1000 people”…because well if a super power like AB is limiting their event to that number than……

  • DSStrategy

    HarroldWith2Rs AnheuserBusch Thanks Josh! Do you know other events with a similar model?

  • DSStrategy

    ginidietrich Thanks Gini – interested to know of others willing to embrace creativity and risk taking like #Upforwhatever

  • DSStrategy

    BMMarketer Maura_Howard SpinSucks Thanks Brian – yes #Upforwhatever really pushed the bounds – do you know of other similar events?

  • ginidietrich

    DSStrategy There aren’t many. It’s a real struggle for those of us who want to be creative

  • DSStrategy

    JeffSheehan SpinSucks Thanks for sharing. Would love your insight on an article I wrote for Social Media Today. http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/turn-likes-love-6-ways-reinforce-customer-loyalty-social-media

  • The beer people really know what’s up. They nail their demographic, and constantly create insanely creative events such as the one you’ve mentioned here, @DSStrategy. Of course, up here in the great white north, many of them revolve around hockey. 😉 Nice to have the scads of cash needed to run an event such as this. Loved this piece.

  • mzkagan

    JasonFalls Not convinced Anheuser-Busch “redefined” experiential marketing, but they sure did throw a fun party. http://bit.ly/1vMdNID

  • HarroldWith2Rs
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