You guys probably saw the Superbowl ads with Beck's Sapphire and Bud Black Crown. if you guys are a bit curious about the backstory on those new brands, or how thing work inside the larger beer company in the world, read on:
*warning: really long post*
"I *may or may not* be the person responsible for Black Crowd. Not 100% sure about this, and I doubt anyone at ABI would confirm this, but here goes the story:
A few years ago, I was recruited out of school to be in ABInBev's Global Management Trainee program. Essentially, the heads of the HR department and a few other execs go around college campuses in countries like the US, Canada, Brazil, China etc. and try to hire the "best" soon-to-be grads away from other multinationals like P&G, McKinsey and Accenture. Went through about 7 rounds of interviews and miraculously got hired out of about 2000 applicants from my country. The last group interview was interesting. 6 of us college seniors were in St Louis getting stared down by a few people on this org chart (http://www.ab-inbev.com/go/about_abi...tion_chart.cfm
). Somehow made it through that hour without crapping my pants and got an offer a few weeks later.
Flash forward 8 months and I was back in Saint Louis with the other 100 or so Trainees in the class of 2011 for a week-long retreat/training session/meet and greet with upper management. In terms of accommodations we were really well taken care of, on par with any other Fortune 500-type employee travel perks. Our hotel was right next to the Cardinals ballpark and had a really nice gym. Since our workday started pretty early, I got up at 5AM on the second day there to get a workout in. There were only one other person in the gym on that particular morning - Carlos Brito, our CEO. We chatted for about twenty minutes while riding stationary bikes. He was great to talk to, but the whole scene kind of made me realize that's not the path I'd like to walk down, but I digress.
The most intense part of the week was a presentation that we had to make to the VP in charge of New Products and Innovation. We were split into multi-national, cross disciplinary teams and asked to tackle one of the three problems:
1) How to get more women to drink beer
2) How to compete against craft brewers
or 3) How to make the beer production process more sustainable and environmentally-friendly
Since I studied business in college, I didn't have a clue about #3. The second topic I considered pointless (as you guys here would probably agree). So my team, which was mostly consisted of people not so fluent in English, let me pick topic #1.
After a couple of days of brainstorming and prototyping, we came up with some insights to guide our thinking
1) Typical chick lagers (think Bud Light Lime, Coors Light Iced Tea and any of the fruity Michelob lights) are fad products and not viable options to get more female drinkers aboard
2) Girls don't drink beer with meals because most of their moms don't drink beer with meals
3) There's a gap between what girls say they want (light, fruity brew that they can sip slowly) and what girls actually drink (in the case of college-aged girls at keg parties, pretty much whatever, as long as it gets them drunk)
4) The biggest obstacle for girls ordering beers in bars and nightclubs: the bathroom line. You really don't want to spend half your night waiting to pee because it takes you 4 beers to get a buzz as opposed to half a dozen shooters.
The solution was therefore clear: instead of going light and fruity, we need to go 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I'm talking about a malt liquor. Malt liquors aren't overly bitter, and the ABV is just about right - you won't need to shotgun more than a couple to get pretty tipsy. Another bonus: it could be priced the same as Heineken and younger people will buy it because it gets them drunk quicker for the same amount of cash. That's great for revenues AND for profit margins, since bringing imports over cost an arm and a leg, rather than brewing some strong beer using existing equipements and ingredients.
We ended up presenting our new product as a bad-*** malt liquor/beer that will be around 9% ABV and packaged in a slick black bottle with some glitter or other sort of shiny crap on it. I got to channel Steve Jobs and do the 10 minute pitch in front of a group of about 120 people with a prototype bottle in my hand (which looked like a 5th grade arts and crafts projects gone wrong up-close, though it actually looked not bad from 50 ft away). The marketing campaign would be centered on 25-45 male drinkers with money to throw around. It was expected for women to start picking up the brand based on brand values and the ABV. The bar/club owners and ABI would be expecting to make a nice windfall as well, given the high production and sales margins.
We ended up getting good feedback on our idea by the VP, and we went home a few days later and pretty much forgot all about it.
That was in July 2011. Of course, Bud Light Platinum was launched about half a year later. Then this month we got Beck's Sapphire and Bud Black Crown. Whether our presentation gave the head honchos some good ideas or if it just happened to be a coincidence (I lean toward the second possibility, considering we were recent grads with next to zero industry experience, I'd tend to think that our suggestion were duly ignored), I'm disappointed about two things: 1) 6% ABV is a bit low 2) why did ABI think it was a good idea to launch three essentially identical products, just so that they can cannibalize each other?
Anyway, I don't work at ABI anymore. Instead of getting a free case of 24 every month, I now get my beer from a homebrewer buddy. All's well that ends well...."