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Wieden & Kennedy New York picks up Michelob Ultra, adding to its hot streak

Ad Age 06 Dec 2019 06:40

Wieden & Kennedy New York will add Michelob Ultra to its Anheuser-Busch InBev workload starting next year, Ad Age has learned. The shop is expected to take a key role on the brand but incumbent FCB Chicago will also remain involved.

The brand is a major pickup for W&K, which has worked on Bud Light since 2015. It continues a hot streak for the agency’s New York office, which won McDonald’s earlier this year. The office, once a considerably lower-profile operation compared to W&K Portland, has also been handling Ford since last year.

The brewer declined to comment about the changes.

While Bud Light is the nation’s top-selling beer brand, its sales have been declining for years. Ultra, on the other hand, is one of the few big light beer brands that is growing. The brand finished last year as the nation’s fifth-largest beer brand after shipments jumped 14 percent, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights. Ultra sales surged nearly 20 percent in the 12 weeks ending Oct. 5, while Bud Light fell by about 5 percent, according to Nielsen data cited by Wells Fargo.

As Ultra grows, AB InBev continues to dedicate more marketing spending to the brand, which is a major priority for the brewer because it is priced higher than Bud Light. Measured media spending in the U.S. on the Michelob brand family totaled nearly $118 million last year, according to Kantar Media figures cited by the Ad Age Datacenter.

AB has backed Ultra with Super Bowl ads in recent years and is expected to do so again in 2020. The spot, which is under development, will be handled by FCB, according to people familiar with the matter. AB InBev has not commented on its Super Bowl ad plans, which are always subject to change at the last minute. Bud Light will almost assuredly get air time, with the planned Bud Light Seltzer line extension a likely candidate. The seltzer is handled by W&K.

While W&K has total creative control over Bud Light, from an agency standpoint, the brewer has shifted to more of a jump ball approach on some of its other brands, such as Budweiser, which has recently been split between David Miami and VaynerMedia. It appears that the brewer, to some degree, will now take that approach with Ultra. However, the change still amounts to a significant setback for FCB, which now must compete with W&K for work, after largely having the brand to itself since 2015.

But it’s not all bad news for FCB. The agency will take on AB InBev’s “beyond beer” brands, which include Bon & Viv spiked seltzer and its Ritas line of flavored malt beverages according to people familiar with the matter. Bon & Viv has been at Bullish, while Ritas had been at Publicis Groupe’s Fallon. 

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