Is all publicity good publicity? Not in the case of A-BInBev in April.

As seems to be the theme in recent multinational brand advertising, the beverage powerhouse has been hindered by marketing missteps this past month as it attempts to address an alarming Achilles heel in its portfolio.

Bud Light, brewed by A-BInBev, has recently been introduced into the UK market as the leader of the global beer industry aims to consolidate its position. However, rather than relying on tried and tested marketing strategies such as wall-to-wall advertising coverage or large in-store promotions, Bud Light’s marketing team embarked on a guerrilla campaign that saw Bud Light-emblazoned 4X4s park up in city centres and distribute free samples of the product to passers-by.

While this would usually be a sure-fire way to attract consumer attention, especially in a country where beer culture is so embedded, the application of this strategy hit immediate snags. In Liverpool, it was soon discovered that a number of the promotional cans of Bud Light had been handed out to the homeless who occupied areas of the city centre. Those living on the streets are especially vulnerable to vices that offer brief respite from their situation, and alcoholism is one of the leading factors that blight people in this position. While A-BInBev was not targeting rough sleepers in this campaign, it is in stark contrast to the promotion of responsible drinking to which the company claims it is committed.

"A-BInBev’s direct effort to get Bud Light into the hands of UK consumers betrays the desperate need to push the re-launch of the brand."

Further north in Newcastle, the same campaign came under fire for handing out free beer on city streets during school holidays, where underage school children would be enjoying their break wandering around the high street. Once again, despite underage drinkers and other vulnerable people not being the target of the campaign, the apparent brazenness of handing out numerous free samples meant that it is impossible to know for sure whether these products ended up in the hands of those it shouldn’t have.

A-BInBev’s direct effort to get Bud Light into the hands of UK consumers betrays the desperate need to push the re-launch of the Bud Light brand in the market. An initial attempt in 1999 failed to make an impact, so a new approach is being applied. However, the UK market is a supremely tough nut to crack for light beers. Almost as a rule, UK beer drinkers do not take to light beer products as readily as American consumers do, and prefer quality regular-strength products should they wish to lower their alcohol intake.  

In both these cases, the Bud Light team did fall foul of certain regulations, with Newcastle City Council fining the promotion team for “distributing branded materials without a permit” and sending them on their way. Meanwhile in Liverpool, the branded 4×4 there was also removed from the area, in this case for not having permission to park on the high street. However, the backfiring of the campaign already has made headlines across local and national publications, and social media swarmed like bees over honey. With A-BInBev’s second attempt at launching already stumbling out of the blocks, it will be a serious up-hill challenge for Bud Light to gain a foothold in the UK.