Cleveland threw a big party last year after its NFL franchise—the Browns—won its first game in 635 days.
Anheuser-Busch had helped hype the event with “Victory Fridges,” refrigerators the company placed throughout Cleveland stocked with Bud Light that would unlock when the Browns finally won. The activation was a big win for the beer company as users shared pictures and stories on social media about their parties with brewskis from the fridge.
The success was big enough that Bud Light decided to double down on its campaign for the return of the NFL for the 2019 season.
Bud Light and the Browns organization partnered to offer Browns fans a chance to buy their own victory fridge in a pop-up venue they called “B.L. & Brown’s Appliance Superstore.”
Miles Ritenour, director of marketing communications for Bud Light, said it was important for the iconic brand to speak to all fans, not just recent Super Bowl champions.
“As the largest beer brand in America, we think it’s important to connect with consumers on a local level, and one of the best ways we do that is through sports,” he says. “Our role as a brand is enhance these fun moments and help amplify the celebration no matter how big the win is—whether it’s your first championship or your first win in almost two years as it was for the Browns.”
Building on a triumph
Ritenour added that the success of the original activation was what prompted the brand to go back to Cleveland.
“There was such an overwhelming response to last year’s campaign from the people of Cleveland, that we always planned to return in some way,” he says. The idea for the second campaign was born out of the first campaign: the popularity of the Victory Fridge.
“One of the biggest themes coming out of last year’s program was that people wanted Victory Fridges of their own for their homes, offices or wherever they enjoy Browns games,” Ritenour says. “Those messages we received from consumers in Cleveland were the inspiration behind opening up B.L. & Brown’s Appliance Superstore.”
Bud Light also wanted to bring in partners to help promote the event, teaming up with a local celebrity, WWE superstar “The Miz.”
“Like all great partnerships, the relationship with The Miz developed organically,” says Ritenour. “We identified some influential Browns fans for last year’s Victory Fridge program and sent them fridges for their homes in hopes that they might find them cool. The Miz loved his fridge and made a great video the night it opened last year, and he even featured it on and episode of his show Miz and Mrs on USA Network.”
“Did they open the bud light things” -Baker Mayfield
Yes Baker. YES THEY DID.
— The Miz (@mikethemiz) September 21, 2018
For Bud Light, it was important that their influencer partner was a ready to celebrate what they wanted to celebrate: the Cleveland Browns.
“[The Miz] loved the fridge, he loved Bud Light, but most importantly he loved the Browns,” says Ritenour, “and that was the most important thing for us—making this program feel authentic and real, because we know how much the Browns mean to the people of Cleveland.”
A whole forest, not just the trees
Bud Light also knew that to be successful the PR stunt would require a full promotional effort—not just influential partnerships.
“This has a full 360 plan behind it,” says Ritenour. “Our ad featuring the Miz will be on local TV in Cleveland and actually was played in the stadium during [a] Browns’ preseason game.”
Other elements included a full-page ad in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and support from our social media channels as well as The Miz and Browns channels, Ritenour says.
There was a grand opening ceremony at the store on Sept. 3, featuring The Miz, Browns players and staff and local dignitaries, he says.
For PR pros that want to create an event or generate buzz with a PR stunt or live event, take note of the resources Bud Light was able to mobilize to support the activation’s success. PR stunts might feel like a low-budget, guerilla tactic, but they require a lot of investment to ensure success.
Going beyond hard numbers
In terms of measuring the success of the campaign, Ritenour pointed to engagement and enthusiasm as the goal, rather than hard sales figures.
“Honestly, if there is a line of Browns fans waiting to get into the store, we will have done our job,” he says. “The goal with this particular program is to generate earned media and excitement in Cleveland. If we do that and sell some beer in the process when people decide to fill up their fridges, then we’ll consider this a success.”
His answer reveals the struggle for some communicators to attribute sales to stunts like this. However, for an entity as big as Bud Light, the engagement and nurtured relationships with the brand are more important than raw sales numbers.
“It wasn’t necessarily metrics that made us decide to revisit the campaign, but rather what we were hearing from consumers on the ground in Cleveland and on social media,” says Ritenour. “Last year’s campaign in some ways made us a part of Browns history, so there were a lot of people in the year following who were asking for Victory Fridges of their own. That’s the insight that brought us to B.L. Brown’s Appliance Superstore.”
Great ideas can come from listening to your audience.
“If you’re trying to take a national brand and connect to people on a local level, you need to have a continued presence there,” says Ritenour. “Obviously, we loved last year’s campaign, and it resonated nationally because many people who are sports fans can relate to the situation the Browns were in. And it of course drove a ton of earned media—more than 1,000 press stories, over 2 billion earned impressions, 80,000 twitter mentions in less than 12 hours and Google search volume increase by 100x the night the fridges unlocked, but ultimately this is about having fun and doing right by the people in the city of Cleveland.”
Lessons from 2018
“The biggest thing we learned last year was how passionate Browns fans are,” says Ritenour. “The reaction to the fridges last year was bigger than we ever could have imagined, and we expect that same passion to come through at the fridge store this year.
“Last year was all about having fun and celebrating a team the city loved and that’s the same spirit that’s infused in this year’s campaign.”
The campaign is lighting up the Twitter-sphere once again:
— Tim Richards (@radiotimmay) September 4, 2019
— Jarvis Juice Landry (@God_Son80) September 3, 2019
— Brandon Simmons (@216Brandon) September 3, 2019
By the way, the Victory Fridges remained sealed this past weekend. The Browns dropped their Week 1 game—as they have done every year since and including 2005.
What do you think of this year’s Victory Fridge campaign?