Michelob ULTRA, Microsoft, NBA
"Michelob ULTRA Courtside"

Client: Michelob ULTRA, Microsoft, NBA
Product: Michelob ULTRA
Title: Michelob ULTRA Courtside
Media: Case Study, Presentation Board
Country: USA
Date Of Campaign: July 30, 2020

Background: “Play games without the fans? Nah, it’s impossible. I ain’t playing.” — LeBron James, March 6, 2020COVID-19 sent the sports season — and beer sales — into a tailspin. As quarantine set in, on-premise sales evaporated, fans feared a “lost season” and athletes threatened not to play. Without live fans, athletes and coaches worried the game would feel as empty as the stands themselves. Sports sponsors divested, canceling activations, pulling ads and subduing communications, but Michelob ULTRA saw an opportunity.Once favored for its health benefits, light beer sales are declining 3%–4% per year and have been since 2013. Michelob ULTRA’s health-and-wellness-oriented positioning is on-trend culturally, but the brand continues to be seen as a “diet” and “watery” beer by consumers. As a result, the brand significantly underpaces its market share in social conversation and badge value, remaining a beer people are pleased, but not proud, to drink. This issue is particularly acute for young, urban drinkers, as the brand significantly under-indexed the light beer category with men 21–49 (-49% average) and women 28–34 (-17% average). To improve its resonance with this audience, a radical change in strategy was called for. For the first time since 1998, when Anheuser-Busch became an NBA partner, Michelob ULTRA became the league’s official beer sponsor, a major shift after years of Bud Light’s reign. Why? Nearly two-thirds of Americans ages 18–44 are avid or casual fans of the NBA, making it the perfect opportunity to improve the relevance of the brand with a younger audience with a cultural institution they adore. But to truly deliver, this initiative would need to go beyond linear viewing, to include earned media, digital publishers and influencers, where this demographic gets its NBA coverage.But when the pandemic changed the fate of the 2019–20 season and its newly minted sponsorship was in peril, Michelob ULTRA focused on its core purpose of bringing enjoyment back to the game and to prove the brand’s motto: “It’s Only Worth It If You Enjoy It.” Knowing that sales growth is heavily influenced by mental availability (reach, consideration and share of voice), the brand set out to increase its exposure and relevance by finding its place in culture.

Idea: While other leagues scrambled to install cardboard fan cutouts, Michelob ULTRA innovated with Microsoft and the NBA... and Michelob ULTRA Courtside was born. Powered by the debut of Microsoft’s AI-driven Together Mode and a ring of 17-foot LEDs, the experience digitally transported fans into the NBA Bubble, from the comfort and safety of home. The experience boasted millisecond data transfers, a never-before-seen rail cam and 120 spatial audio microphones, which redefined the live-watching experience. To get Courtside, fans scanned their Michelob ULTRA bottles to win virtual tickets to games live-broadcasted from the Orlando-based NBA Bubble. Bold calls-to-action across PR, in-store and digital trade, social, influencer, broadcast integrations, TVC and more led to the most visited URL in the brand’s history.Suddenly, the empty stands that plagued stadiums became an invaluable brand opportunity. Real-time player, fan and broadcaster interaction made Michelob ULTRA a pivotal part of the season’s storyline.The magic of the campaign went far beyond the lucky fans who sat Courtside. Influencers (Jimmy Butler, Scottie Pippen, Peyton Manning, etc.) posted and celebrities (President Obama, Mickey Mouse, Lil Wayne, etc.) made appearances all season. Courtside dominated headlines in sports (ESPN SportsCenter, Bleacher Report, etc.), lifestyle (People, Today, Uproxx, etc.) and news (Wired, Fast Company, Yahoo!, etc.), becoming the #1 industry topic.And across 124 games and 81.5 million hours of NBA coverage, Michelob ULTRA proved game-changing innovation… could change the game forever.

Results: Michelob ULTRA Courtside changed the fate of the brand’s business as it navigated a year rife with disruption due to COVID-19. Michelob ULTRA sales grew 32%, due to on-bottle, scan-to-win ticket promotions, soaring cultural relevance and unprecedented brand exposure to a younger, more urban demographic. The campaign’s success was driven by more than 13 billion impressions and 81.5 million hours of NBA coverage. A veritable cultural phenomenon, Courtside drove a substantial lift in all major mental availability metrics, including consideration (+4.3%), reach (+31%) and share of voice (+6%).In a year when distribution (physical availability) of Michelob ULTRA remained flat, the brand was the biggest share-gainer among beers in the industry. Michelob ULTRA gained +69 points of market share, towering over the declines of Miller Lite (-13 points) and Coors Light (-32 points).Today, Microsoft is applying insights from Courtside to workplaces, classrooms and entertainment venues to make them more fun, engaging and memorable. And the NBA is looking at the future of fan experience through the lens of Courtside.

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