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Cannes Lions 2023

Brewing up a creative storm: Why AB InBev is now recognised as a creative powerhouse

The brewer has been named the Cannes Lions Creative Marketer of the Year for the second year running. We find out why.

By Conor Nichols

AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, has been awarded Creative Marketer of the Year at Cannes Lions for a second year in a row. This is the first and only brand to achieve this in the history of the festival. Not only this, but the company was also named Client of the Year at this year’s D&AD awards.

The business is consistently being recognised as a creative powerhouse for its brand-building efforts - despite the recent Bud Light controversy that attracted negative press at an international level.

In 2021, AB InBev won its first Cannes Lions Grand Prix for its ’Tienda Cerca’ campaign. A year later in 2022, AB InBev won a whopping 49 Lions – one Grand Prix, 10 Gold, 19 Silver, 19 Bronze – across 10 brands from seven countries. The Grand Prix came in the form of a Creative Effectiveness award for Michelob Ultra and its ‘Contract for Change’ campaign, an organic farming initiative that hoped to expand access to organic ingredients in the US.

The Mastercard marketing chief Raja Rajamannar, the jury president at the time, felt that the campaign went “above and beyond”, describing it as “disruptive and game-changing.”

But when did the journey to develop creative excellence begin? In 2018, the alcohol company set a five-year strategic goal to improve its creative marketing capabilities and drive organic revenue for the business.

Prior to this, AB InBev relied mostly on mergers and acquisitions for growth - it was not a ‘creative’ company as such. The business’ former chief marketing officer Miguel Patricio sought to change that, convincing the board that the company needed to radically rethink its approach to creativity if it was to become a brand-builder as opposed to a brand-buyer.

And the company did exactly that. Last year, campaigns like Michelob Ultra’s ‘McEnroe vs McEnroe’ and Corona’s ‘Native Sportscasters’ stole the show, with AB InBev winning Gold Lions across the board.

This year, the group has had several campaigns shortlisted at Cannes Lions. Budweiser and Wieden + Kennedy’s ‘Bring Home The Bud’, AB InBev South Africa and Ogilvy South Africa’s ‘Bread Of The Nation’ and Corona and David’s ‘Corona Extra Lime’, have all been shortlisted for the Titanium award. Stella Artois and Soko’s ‘ Uncomfortable Food’ campaign was also shortlisted for Glass: The Lion For Change.

AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris has dubbed the nominations as “a testament to the creativity of our entire marketing organisation and the relentless focus on connecting in meaningful ways with consumers.”

Cannes Lions CEO Simon Cook also believes that the group has “raised the bar”, embedding a culture that ensures continued success is “inevitable”.

“AB InBev’s commitment to creativity and the role it plays in business value creation is further supported by the clear buy-in from the company board,” Cook adds. “They’ve also scaled, using the best practice established in the US as a blueprint for their approach across other markets. All of this has delivered incredible business results, and the fact that they now use the number and breadth of Lion wins as a core measure of success shows just how powerful creativity is in driving progress.”

What does the advertising industry make of AB InBev’s recent focus on creativity and its subsequent organic growth? We asked some creatives to find out.

Sue Higgs, executive creative director, Dentsu Creative

I’m in awe of AB InBev, for their consistency, as much as their award-winning creativity. They’ve stuck to their vision to reimagine a beer company, like a creative’s hand on a Cannes lion, year after year, with honesty and truth.

They don’t bow down to the marketing director, turn around and start changing lane every two years. No, this brand is not for turning, (as many do). They’re also not afraid to innovate or take risks, and it’s this that makes them the creative legends they are.

An analogy too obvious to ignore, is taken from their mighty 'Contract For Change' work. Instead of starting with the beer, they start at the other end, with the people and the crops and do that right. When it’s pure at source, it’s pure at the end. The old adage: ‘good in, good out’.

When you build a brand honestly from the root of the crop to the ear of corn, you reap the rewards creatively.

Dan Watts, executive creative director, Pablo

Ab InBev prides itself on a "relentless focus on connecting in meaningful ways to consumers". It's how the best clients and agencies think. Why will anyone care about what we have to say? Will it get talked about? How are we actioning it? Thinking like this leads to work like 'Bring Home the Bud' and 'Bread of the Nation'. Stuff that, god forbid, actually gets noticed and into culture.

After all, if you're not getting noticed you're completely wasting your moollah.

Felipe Guimaraes, deputy executive creative director, BBH

They are a client that are unafraid when it comes to the different shapes of creative work. They are recognised by the fact that a creative solution sometimes doesn’t fit the traditional mould that the industry has created. Great work answers a problem not a media buy.


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