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To appeal to the under-30 set that has ignored the brand — but is a prime consumer group for beer — Budweiser will unleash its biggest-ever national free-sample effort in trendy bars and eateries. The campaign begins Monday, with the slogan "Grab some Buds." The hype culminates on Sept. 29, when the brand hosts the "Budweiser National Happy Hour," a bid by Bud to nudge folks to at least try a free brewski. The free samples for those 21 and up range from 6 ounces to 12 ounces, depending on state and local rules.
At issue: a brand that's lost mojo. Bud unit sales were down 9% last year and are down the same this year, says Beverage Marketing Corp. Beer drinkers have lost loyalty to Bud for the past seven years, research firm Brand Keys reports. Bud's ranking among national product brands slipped from 16th in 2003 to 220th in 2010.
Budweiser ranks 30th on Interbrand's 2010 list of most valuable global brands — the same as 2009. The promotion comes as upscale consumers are turning to craft beers, the price-conscious are trading down, and others switched to light beers. "It's a triple whammy," says Michael Bellas, CEO at Beverage Marketing. Executives at Anheuser-Busch, a wholly owned subsidiary of Belgium-based Anheuser–Busch InBev, insist they can reignite interest from younger drinkers with an image upgrade and a reintroduction via sampling. "Brands can come back," says Dave Peacock, A-B president. "Consumers have a high awareness of the brand, but some haven't tried it in a long time."
How he hopes to win 'em back: •Sampling. A-B will hand out 500,000 samples by mid-October. "When we get the trial, we find we have a positive result," Peacock says. •Facebook. Bud plans to partner with Facebook so folks turning age 22 and up can get a free beer on birthdays. •New ads. Ads air Saturday about anticipating good times with Bud. •Focus. A-B will focus 95% of TV ad time on Bud Sept. 25 to Oct. 3. Brand consultant Robert Passikoff has serious doubts about Budweiser's effort. "They're in trouble because they don't know how to talk to consumers," he says. "They no longer know how to create an emotional bond." But Bellas says there's a glimmer of hope for Bud: "It's a beginning."