Recently, I had the pleasure of sharing one of the AB InBev projects I’m the most proud of with the Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA). The project? Social Norms Marketing in Smart Drinking, which we’re committed to cultivating shared value everywhere we go and in everything we do. To date, we’ve invested more than $350 million in Social Norms Marketing that reduces harmful consumption and increases brand equity.
This is no mere vanity project. To quote Dr. Myriam Sidibe from the Harvard Kennedy School, “Brands are powerful because they reach the consumers at the time of consumption and can encourage Smart Drinking behavior change.” That’s exactly what AB InBev has been working to do, from our 100+ Smart Drinking campaigns to our global Smart Drinking Campaign Competition & Social Norms Marketing Toolkit.
The Beer Cap Project, a pilot initiative carried out by our Aguila brand in Colombia, is a great example of what we’ve accomplished – and of how we can better engage young adults. Countless millions of dollars have been spent on smart drinking ads that young adults mostly don’t care about, because when they’re out partying, they just want to have fun. So, how could we encourage them to eat beforehand, drink water, or get home safely?
Our bottle caps! We removed our logo, offering that space to food chains, water brands, and transportation companies to put their logos. And to go one step further, all those caps could be exchanged during party hours for free food, water, or rides.
We saw great results, with 150,000 caps redeemed for water, food, and safe rides home during the program’s life. Once we saw how well it was doing, we invited the world’s other biggest players to join in, posting billboards in Prague, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Dublin, and Milwaukee to invite them aboard.
Part of why it worked was its simplicity. It was based on encouraging three clear desired behaviors (eating before drinking, drinking water while partying, and taking a taxi home), was highly visible, and eliminated excuses by making those goods and services free. And it had a social impact! Partygoers showed more awareness of the harmful drinking, and their behaviors changed throughout the promotion period.
The social norms didn’t change much, but we didn’t expect them to – this was our “proof of concept,” if you will. Changing norms takes time. It can’t be done in just one pilot; it takes a continued spotlight on the desired norms and sustained effort to build in these new elements.
But that’s our real goal. We want to drive sustained, positive change in society’s knowledge, social norms, and behavior around drinking to support our Smart Drinking commitment and, ultimately, make sure every experience with beer is a positive one.
So far, it’s gone well – our work is even becoming a global industry reference. For example, the Beer Cap Project won a 2021 Cannes Lions award, our overall smart drinking strategy was recognized as Best-in-Class by a 2021 Georgetown University case study, and Jefferies Equity Research found AB InBev to be a leader in Smart Drinking across the industry just last year.
But while the recognition shows us we’re on the right track, it’s not what we’re looking for. What we really want is a future with more cheers, and we’re dreaming big to get there. From expanding our no- and low-alcohol beer portfolio to increasing information through helpful guidance labeling to our work to implement best practices in reducing harmful consumption around the globe, we’re working to make Smart Drinking the only kind of drinking there is to get to that cheerful future… One changed norm at a time.