How AB InBev evolves inclusive marketing from good intentions to long-term strategy

    NEW YORK — As brands look to grow engagement, expanding advertising to new groups in an authentic and effective way is one way of achieving that goal, including for the historically stodgy alcohol category. A bigger focus on women’s sports and more gender inclusivity have proved increasingly important for business success, said Tracy Stallard, global vice president of Connections and the in-house agency DraftLine at Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), during a panel at Advertising Week.

    Portraying women in a relatable way that defies stereotypes that have often been proliferated through advertising has yielded significant results, per research detailed during the panel. Ipsos Senior Vice President Janelle James and Traci Spiegelman, vice president of global media at Mastercard, were also present for the discussion about evolving sports advertising equity beyond good intentions to a long-term strategy.

    “If you want to create an inclusive category, it starts from understanding the market opportunities,” Stallard said. “It starts from understanding who these individuals are. It starts by saying, ‘How do I accurately speak your message to them in ways they would like?’”

    Beyond tokenism

    In order to create effective marketing campaigns, change needs to happen on the company level, per Stallard. If women’s sports marketing is going to be a tactic that pays off, it’s important that the right people are in the room to build a strong marketing foundation. Once that base is built, a brand can start thinking about innovation and changing perceptions.

    “You can really move the business when you rethink… even [about] things that you’ve done in the past that were not complimentary to women,” Stallard said.

    AB InBev has stepped up its female sports advertising in recent years, both domestically and in other markets. Earlier this year, Busch Light announced it was sponsoring every female NASCAR driver aged 21 and older, pledging $10 million over the course of three years. Michelob Ultra released three advertisements during the Super Bowl highlighting female athletes. The “Superior Bowl” spots showed high-profile male and female athletes bowling together, only for the entire room to be star-struck by Serena Williams.

    Mastercard has also renewed efforts to sponsor women’s sports, according to Spiegelman. She highlighted a recent rugby advertisement by the financial services marketer depicting young female athletes playing the rough, full-contact sport. Companies should review their sponsorship portfolios to ensure money is going to women in the field in order to match words to action, panelists said.

    “We have to put our money where our mouth is because, at the end of the day, we’re not going to get the viewership, we’re not going to be able to push live coverage,” said Spiegelman. “We can’t make that progress as an industry if companies aren’t taking that stand.”

    Beyond taking a stand, positive depictions of women in advertising have proven to be a smart business decision. Research by Ipsos and SeeHer, an industry group that aims to eliminate gender bias in advertising and media, found that ads that scored highly on the organization’s Gender Equality Measure (GEM) performed better than those that did not. A high GEM score was associated with 24% higher short-term purchase intent and rose the likelihood of a stronger, long-term brand relationship by 28%.

    The research also revealed that women are making or influencing 83% of all consumer purchases in the U.S. and account for over $6.4 trillion dollars in spending annually. Despite this, only 12% of restaurant ads, 14% of beverage ads, 16% of alcoholic beverage ads and 15% of home care ads place in the top third of GEM scores.

    “It all starts from saying this is the opportunity,” said Stallard. “You want to make money, we all want to make money. Let’s go.”


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