Bud Light Seltzer used to run ads joking that people thought it was beer. It’s not a joke anymore

New York (CNN) Bud Light Seltzer has a problem: people always think there’s beer in fortified seltzer.

More than half of the thousands of people surveyed by Bud Light Seltzer mistakenly believe that alcoholic seltzer contains beer, which is a self-confessed problem for the three-year-old brand because it’s “a hindrance for people who considering trying us out,” Steve Wolf, vice president of marketing for Bud Light Extensions, told CNN.

“We launched Bud Light Seltzer as Bud Light in 2020 because it had immediate recognition and distribution benefits,” he said. “Naturally, this comes with some confusion which we have to make sure we touch on directly to make sure people know very well what is in our product.”

A still from the new Bud Light Seltzer TV commercial.

To this end, Bud Light Seltzer is launching a new year-long advertising campaign with the slogan “100% Hard Seltzer, 0% Beer”. The first TV spot shows a Bud Light Seltzer delivery truck driving through a brown-colored desert with colorful bubbles floating in the back. Wolf said the bubbles are “an incredibly powerful way to show off the variety of flavor and lightness that our product brings.”

This is a big change from previous Bud Light Seltzer commercials which used humor. In a commercial that aired during the 2020 Super Bowl, Bud Light Seltzer enlisted rapper Post Malone and showed the inside of his brain trying to decide whether to buy Bud Light or Bud Light Seltzer from a convenience store. (He ended up buying both.) Another TV ad featured a toll-free number that confused customers could call to answer questions about fortified seltzer.

“The humor is really hard to crack,” Wolf said of the brand’s past ads, adding that they weren’t “direct enough” to educate people about Bud Light Seltzer. The new ad puts more emphasis on the slogan “100% Hard Seltzer, 0% Beer” and is the brand’s first consistent message since its launch.

Customers will not see any changes to the Bud Light Seltzer name, packaging or logo. But they’ll notice a new limited-time offer called “Sangria Splash,” which is the first time the brand has used real fruit juice in malt-based seltzer. It follows a broader industry trend that people are looking for “fully flavored” drinks as canned spirit-based cocktails with punchier taste profiles are gaining popularity at the expense of seltzer.

Bryan Roth, analyst for Feel Goods Company and liquor editor newsletter, Sightlines+, told CNN that Bud Light Seltzer’s confusing identity is not a “sweet spot for another year.”

“The more time Bud Light Seltzer spends convincing heavy seltzer drinkers that there’s no beer in it, the less it is able to talk about the things that really matter, like flavor,” Roth said.

Seltzer Slides

Fortified seltzer water first appeared in the United States about five years ago. Drinkers were immediately drawn to the new alcoholic beverage that offers zero carbs, low calories and fruity taste in the convenience of a can.

However, the novelty fell and sales plummeted, forcing some of the top-selling brands to introduce spirit-based cocktails and product redesigns. For example, drinkers prefer to drink a tequila-based canned margarita rather than a malt-based margarita-flavored seltzer water.

White Claw remains the top-selling brand, Truly is second and Bud Light Seltzer is third, according to data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Sales of Bud Light Seltzer fell about 24% last year, the company said, which is worse than the average seltzer category, which fell nearly 15%.

Seltzer sales are “maturing,” according to Kaleigh Theriault, head of thought leadership at NIQ, a Nielsen (NLSN) business. She told CNN that the The seltzer category now has 361 brands vying for attention and many have launched new flavors to woo drinkers with varying results.

“Some have worked well, but usually only for a short time as consumers continue to search for something new and different,” she said. “Many seltzer buyers are simply spending less on seltzer, with a third of the loss in volume due to switching to other categories, such as spirit-based cocktails.”

Despite competition and slowing sales, Bud Light Seltzer is “here to stay and not going anywhere,” Wolf said.

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