A Spirited Play

A-B officially launching upscale Bud Light Platinum with Super Bowl ads

ST. LOUIS -- Anheuser-Busch InBev is rolling out Bud Light Platinum, an upscale version of its best-selling label. Platinum has been in the works for four years Mike Sundet, A-B's senior director for Bud Light marketing, told the St. Louis Dispatch. Geared to be a higher-end version of its namesake, it is still a clear light lager, though one with "considerably more punch" than Bud Light--6% alcohol by volume compared to 4.2.

It's a bit sweeter, and a bit smoother. And it's designed for drinking not so much around the backyard grill but in the club, or at least a classy bar, according to the report.

"It's higher-end. It's sophisticated," Sundet added. "There's a time and a place where consumers are looking for drinks that make them feel like they're stepping up."

The beer comes in a distinctive, cobalt blue bottle. Its tag line is "top-shelf taste." It is being launched with two 30-second ads early in Sunday's Super Bowl, one which features a roomful of diverse, attractive young professionals sipping Platinum at an after-hours office party, with a DJ playing a track by Kanye West.

Platinum is a play for a demographic that has been bypassing beer in favor of spirits, Ben Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights, told the newspaper. "They're going after the spirits drinker. There's no question about that," he said.

For the past decade or so, spirits have been cutting into the market for beer. Liquor sales now make up more than one-third of the U.S. alcohol market, up from 28% in 2000, according to the Post-Dispatch, citing research firm Discus. Beer's share has fallen below 50%.

Platinum is "definitely not a craft beer," Sundet said.

A-B has been trying to tap that market with its newer Shock Top line and with deals like last year's acquisition of craft label Goose Island.

The new brew, Sundet said, is targeted more at people who have shifted to drinking spirits.

That could prove to be a good strategy, said industry analyst David "Bump" Williams. "If it's their intention to try and get some spirit shoppers back into beer, I think this could be it," he told the paper. "Bud Light Platinum has a pretty good shot."

The track record for these Bud Light brand extensions is rather mixed, said the report. A-B InBev launched Bud Light Lime in 2008, and it sells well, particularly in the summer months. It notched 1.77 million barrels in sales in 2010, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, good for 1% of the U.S. market.

A year later, out came Bud Light Golden Wheat, a more direct challenge to successful beers such as Miller Coors' Blue Moon. It never caught on with drinkers, selling at its peak just a few hundred thousand barrels. It's now nearly absent from shelves, and will be discontinued as Platinum ramps up, Sundet said.

"We're going to continue to try new things," he said. "Some are going to succeed. Some aren't."

A-B InBev has much riding on Platinum, added Williams. It's their shot to bite back at spirits, to woo drinkers who have turned away from beer, to show they can produce a new product just as well as their rivals at MillerCoors, he said.

"The wholesalers are doing their job. The packaging folks have done a phenomenal job developing a beautiful package. Everything's good," he said. "Now, is it what the consumer wants?"

Based in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch--a wholly owned subsidiary of Belgium-based global brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev--is a leading American brewer. The company brews the world's largest-selling beers, Budweiser and Bud Light, and distributes these and many other brands through a network of more than 500 independent wholesalers.