bud. man.

I’ve been a Bud Fan ever since Harry Carey declared himself a Cub Fan, Bud Man (remember those commercials of Harry singing the jingle? I vaguely remember, it was like, 1988.) And now look who else is jumping on the bandwagon! Kasey Kahne, my obligatory favorite Nascar driver*, hops on with Bud now that Jr. is off promoting Pepsi (bleh!)

* I would not be a true southerner if I didn’t at least root for a Nascar driver, I think it’s a rule somewhere in southern code.

Budweiser to raise some Kahne

During Budweiser’s announcement last week that the company would sponsor Kasey Kahne’s No. 9 Dodge, Tony Ponturo dropped a few subtle reminders that Bud’s activation makes the driver, the driver doesn’t make Bud.When you’re the biggest-spending and most-visible team sponsor in NASCAR, you don’t worry about the star you just lost. You go about making the next star.

Sure, Budweiser wanted to stay with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the driver moved to Hendrick Motorsports. Ponturo, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of global media and marketing, didn’t even try to spin it last week as Earnhardt announced his new sponsor, Mountain Dew Amp, and Bud moved to Kahne’s car at Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Bud’s first preference was to build on the nine years it had invested with Earnhardt.

Once it became evident earlier this summer that Earnhardt and Hendrick had other ideas, Bud’s marketing team wasted no time crying over spilt beer. Kahne was the driver Bud wanted and he’ll be the beneficiary of one of the most powerful marketing machines in sports, just as Earnhardt was.

Anheuser-Busch’s ad spend on sports was more than $250 million last year, accounting for more than three-quarters of its total ad spend, according to Nielsen Media Research. The company was the biggest spender in sports from 1995 to 2005 before Chevrolet inched ahead last year.

Budweiser’s marketing muscle will boost
the image of Kasey Kahne and the
No. 9 Dodge.

“Marketing power and visibility create the bigger-than-life feel,” Ponturo said. It wasn’t until Bud began using Earnhardt in clothes other than his uniform that he took on a new level of celebrity, Ponturo said.

“That’s when you started seeing him in Rolling Stone,” he said.

Kahne, 27, won’t be Earnhardt. His boyish look won’t lend itself to a post-apocalyptic “Mad Max”-style car chase, as Earnhardt performed in one of his last Bud ads. The five-o’clock shadow Earnhardt typically wears to every appearance would have to be painted on Kahne’s youthful face.

But Ponturo already has visions for 2008 when Kahne hops into the Bud car for the first time. He’s thinking of golfer Sergio Garcia in the Michelob Ultra spots, where Garcia woos the women by the pool or at the party. He’s thinking of Kahne in front of a laptop or texting on his cell phone, trying to appeal to the 20-something crowd that loves sports, but also loves gadgets.

Allstate ads have already established Kahne as the heartthrob of soccer moms. Bud will try to take it a step further.

“It’s going to be totally new moving forward,” Ponturo said. “His image, his style, we want to capitalize on his youthfulness and that look. He’s a driver who can come across with a broader appeal. He has an appeal to women, and we’re not going to shy away from that.”

The transactions from last week don’t come without some level of risk for both parties. Earnhardt became a star thanks in part to Bud’s ambitious activation. When NASCAR fans have been asked by ESPN Sports Poll this year to name the most prominent sponsors in the sport, Anheuser-Busch is mentioned more than half the time, and that’s nearly four times more often than the next team sponsor, Home Depot. Nearly a quarter of avid NASCAR fans polled say Bud is their favorite beer, well ahead of any other brand.

Starting anew with Mountain Dew Amp, a brand without a foothold in NASCAR and a distant sixth in sales in the energy drink category, brings its own set of challenges. Will Earnhardt maintain his dominance among the drivers in merchandise sales with a new, green No. 88 car that has no equity with NASCAR fans?

“If it were any other driver, I would say that leaving Budweiser was a huge mistake,” said Jonathan Gibson, vice president of Pierce Promotions and a former marketing executive at Miller Brewing. “However, Dale Jr. is such an incredibly strong brand, and his departure will be felt at Budweiser and its distributor network. The sea of red that we all see at the track will most likely be green in 2008.”

Mike Bartelli, senior vice president at motorsports agency Millsport, said that Earnhardt had probably done all he could for the Bud brand.

“Kasey’s appeal will be more incremental: younger, more female, perhaps more upscale,” Bartelli said. “While the likelihood that Bud will catch lightning in a bottle as they did with Dale Jr. is slim, Kasey can impact the brand in ways Dale Jr. might not.”

It’s not just Bud’s advertising that will prop up Kahne. It’s all of the promotional and point-of-sale material throughout Bud’s distribution system that will keep Kahne front and center at retail.

“Kasey will now be visible in every sales channel across the country,” Gibson said.

The fresh start with Kahne, Ponturo said, “in a way, will energize us.”

SportsBusinessJournal (sub req’d)


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