Cannes Lions

Natural Light Virtual Commencement

AB INBEV, New York / ABINBEV / 2020

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Overview

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Overview

Background

COVID-19 forced every university in America to cancel in-person commencement ceremonies in 2020. This moment is the rite of passage for any college student and a celebration of years of hard work. Natural Light, the favorite beer of college students, has built equity with this key consumer group by consistently being relevant in their lives and helping address real-world problems. How could Natural Light offer a respite from the loss of a college semester and the crowning achievement for college students? The brand decided to hold its own commencement ceremony, a virtual celebration featuring celebrities and guests that resonated deeply with its fans, sending them off in the way they deserved. The one-of-a-kind live event featured speakers that college students admired and respected and appeared simultaneously across a multitude of digital platforms, giving students across the country as much of a shared sense of community as possible.

Idea

College graduation ceremonies are typically in-person events reserved for students, and friends and families of the graduating class, with some schools featuring a guest speaker that is either famous or an alumni of the school. Despite the graduation ceremony being a rite of passage into adulthood, the ceremonies themselves are typically quite boring. But with all aspects of American college life upended in 2020, including the cancellation of commencement ceremonies, Natty Light, the beer that goes hand-in-hand with the college experience, decided to step in. The brand decided to create a nationwide, all-virtual commencement ceremony for graduating seniors across America, with a lineup of speakers that its fans would love and appreciate. The event would be broadcasted live across channels, and honor the entire graduating across the country as a way for all college seniors to feel the sense of accomplishment and unity like every in-person ceremony typically offers.

Strategy

Natural Light decided to host its very own virtual graduation ceremony for the entire Class of 2020: Natty’s Worldwide Commencement. Natural Light decided to announce the creation of the event just at the moment when graduation ceremonies were announced as canceled, not only capitalizing on the cultural conversation, but to give its audience something to look forward to amidst the bleak outlook of the pandemic. This was done through the release of a simple visual with the event date, and an announcement of more to come. Closer to the event, Natural Light released a full key visual of talent participating, developed in the look and feel of a classic Fraternity/Sorority house photo, to drive home that the brand understands its key audience.

Execution

The Natty Worldwide Commencement was a one-hour live event, broadcasted across all of Natural Light’s social channels, including Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. The event was hosted by influencer and activist Amanda Cerny, and included a mix of live performances--including from artist Machine Gun Kelly--with pre-recorded segments from the range of celebrity talent, including comedian Adam Devine, entrepreneur Mark Cuban, sportscaster Stephen A. Smith, and many more. Each of the speakers were given custom Natural Light graduation outfits, and offered unique words of advice. Fans were also encouraged to interact via Facebook Live chat and Instagram comments.

Outcome

Sentiment across the board was outstandingly positive before, during, and after the event, with little to no negative response. Coverage spiked when the programming was announced, shortly before the event itself, and post event within virtual commencement recaps with over 300 stories and over 975 million impressions across broadcast, editorial and social. The event garnered media attention on new titles for the brand including Complex and Vulture in addition to inclusions in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Tonight and more expanding total reach for the brand to new consumers. The Natty Worldwide Commencement also received over 654K total views across all of Natty’s social platforms, increasing Twitter followers by 4.4% and Instagram followers by 2.7%. Natty’s Worldwide Commencement is representative of a larger effort by the Natural Light brand to listen closely to its consumers and provide meaningful support to them as they transition from college to adult life. Developed around the key insight that the Class of 2020 was largely missing out on one of life’s most important milestones, the Natty Worldwide Commencement was also effective in fulfilling Natty’s continual goal of helping its fans both face adulting challenges and look fondly back on their college experiences.

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