Creative Strategy > Challenges & Breakthroughs




Shortlisted Cannes Lions
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The Interpretation of the Challenge

The American beer industry has been in decline for over a decade. In that time, the category has lost more than 10 share points to wine and spirits. Finding the problem was easy; consumers were increasingly dis-interested in what the beer category had to offer. What was far more challenging was understanding why the problem existed. Thousands of experts, from trade publications to global strategic consultants like the McKinsey Group had offered explanations, but none of these thought-pieces delivered any meaningful results.

As an underdog in the category, Michelob ULTRA was an unlikely brand to tackle its industry’s largest challenge. We were 1/10th the size of the category lead, lacked national brand recognition, and were an American light beer when craft and imports were the only growing segments in the category. Nevertheless, our parent company Anheuser Busch needed a big result from our little brand. Our challenge was simple and clear: understand what was causing consumers to turn their back on beer and bring growth back to the industry.

We had a lot of support and big ambitions, but no idea what to do.We took the category out of the bar, and got it back into the world. We stopped

The Insight / Breakthrough Thinking

We took the category out of the bar, and got it back into the world. We stopped the industry-centric navel-gazing and started looking to culture in order to understand beer drinkers as people first. Because the learning agenda stopped the moment a consumer walked out of the bar, we had no idea what lifestyle factors were impacting their drinking behaviors.

Interrogating consumers’ data revealed how their behaviors had changed. From fashion to business, no matter where we looked fitness was dominating the minds and wallets of Americans. Our quantitative studies revealed that 86% of beer drinkers were engaged in health-conscious behaviors and that 96% wanted to be seen as active and healthy by their peers.

We uncovered a drinker everyone had overlooked: The Social Athlete. Social Athletes are millions of beer drinkers who care about their health and wellness, but don’t want to give

The Creative Idea

Our insight revealed a perfect opportunity for Michelob ULTRA, a beer that is low in calories and carbs.

Active consumers have their own clothing, food, technology brands, but they don’t have any beer brands to help them socialize and connect with likeminded individuals.

The idea was simple: Become the only beer for Social Athletes: the people who live fit and love beer.

We stopped behaving like a beer brand and started acting like an active brand. We handed out beers at finish lines instead of bars, we launched new products featuring different wellness benefits, sponsored a team of runners in the NYC marathon, and even reimagined the beer tap to only pour beer for consumers who could pull against 200 pounds (~90 kilos) of resistance. We introduced the first large-scale organic beer, spearheaded the industry’s largest organic farming initiative, and even transformed a Super Bowl commercial into a meditation.

The Outcome / Results

In three and a half years, Michelob ULTRA has gone from unheard of challenger brand to being nearly as large as Budweiser. At the outset our challenge was to grow in a declining category. We have increased annual volume sales by +68%, and increased topline revenue by +77%. The strategy drove relevance and helped us breakthrough to new consumers, increasing past four-week household penetration by +28%.

Since launching our campaign, Michelob ULTRA’s creative work has earned billions of unpaid media impressions.

That attention has helped set us apart from the category. Michelob has been the top share gainer in American beer every business quarter for three and a half years, increasing our market share by 64%. That share gain translates to over a billion more beers sold.

At the outset our challenge was to bring growth back to the beer industry.

Cultural/Context Information for the Jury

When the case study mentions “active consumers” or “active living” we are discussing consumers who are engaged in behaviors that are connected to overall health and wellbeing, including physical exercise and healthy eating, who also recognize that being social is an important to their overall wellbeing.

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