Nikita Mishra
Aug 18, 2023

The CMO's MO: Vineet Sharma on Budweiser's 15-year party in India

Growth, gigs and goals aside, AB InBev's marketing lead for South Asia advocates for better diversity and inclusion in the alcohol-beverage sector at a time when the BudLight fiasco is far from over.

The CMO's MO: Vineet Sharma on Budweiser's 15-year party in India

The CMO's MO: 9 questions with dynamic APAC marketing leaders, insights and personalities revealed. 

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It’s a delicate time for the beer sector. Five months after the ‘anti-woke’ controversy with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney, BudLight continues to be at the forefront of consumer outrage with tanking sales and a stock price that's declined nearly 20%. However outside of US, especially in South Asia where marketer Vineet Sharma is the vice president of marketing, the dent of the debacle is minimal.

In India, AB InBev is the second largest brewer after United Breweries that makes Kingfisher Beer. Together, they control three-fourths of the Indian beer market. As for Budweiser, India is one of the top five global markets by dollar sales. So, what really goes behind brewing this brilliance? 

Campaign chats with AB InBev's Vineet Sharma on his growth strategy for South Asia, Budweiser's association with sports leagues and music festivals in raising the bar, and making sippable brand stories. 

1. What are the three biggest marketing challenges for your brand right now? 

The dictum 'consumer is king' has never been as relevant as it is today. As marketers, we must evolve faster than consumers to remain relevant. At Budweiser, we're all about creativity and innovation with the consumer at the centre.

We pride ourselves on responsible marketing and communication. We steer clear of communicating with the audience under LDA (legal drinking age), even for our non-alcobev offerings. Through Budweiser’s ‘Art of Drinking,’ ‘Drink Wiser,’ and ‘Kings Enjoy Responsibly’ campaigns, we’re actively addressing binge drinking.

In a crowded experiential space, we have worked to create an unparalleled brand identity through immersive on-ground experiences, including high-energy events, IPs, festivals, etc. Our goal is to establish Budweiser as a differentiated and meaningful brand high on saliency. 

What are the three biggest opportunities for your brand?

With experiential marketing making a comeback, we have an advantage as a brand that has shaped pop culture and sub-cultures for over a decade. We've created high-energy music experiences and brought iconic IPs through the years. We'll continue to invest in experiential  marketing (XM) disproportionately by strengthening existing partnerships and seeking new ones.

Budweiser enjoys an enviable advantage as one of India's fastest-growing premium beverage brands, and India is now one of Budweiser's top 5 global markets. 

Over the years, Budweiser has united diverse audiences, transcending geographical, cultural, and ideological boundaries. Leveraging sports' universal appeal, particularly football, to connect with millions in a high-energy, emotionally-charged environment has worked well for us. India is one of the largest football-viewing countries, and we've tapped into global partnerships like La Liga, FIFA, EPL to connect with our audiences in a memorable, almost spiritual way.

3. Where are you investing your marketing budgets this year? In what areas are you increasing or cutting spend?

Our goal is to create celebratory, memorable moments for consumers and not be just another brand logo on a poster. We have an exciting 2023 planned with campaigns and activations for our growing portfolio. Digital and social will be a major part of our budget in H1, with more spends on beer and energy drinks, given the soaring temperatures. In H2, we have initiatives lined up for Magnum Double Barrel whiskey, in addition to the rest of the portfolio. Based on last year's success, we'll continue to invest in experiential marketing, taking our partnerships to the next level and forging new relationships to create unforgettable moments for our consumers.

4. Give us one example to convince our readers that your brand is walking the talk on sustainability.

Given the resurgence of XM in the last year, Budweiser has focused on creating an eco-system of minimal waste at festivals and events by employing simple tactics like serving our beverages in reusable aluminium cups. We have also been long-standing partners of green festivals like Echoes of Earth.

Our efforts are fuelled by Budweiser’s global commitment to brew with 100% renewable electricity by 2025. All the Budweiser brewed in our state-of-the-art brewery is powered 100% by renewable sources. We aim to continue driving these efforts that will add value to our patrons and partners, in the long-term, because we are committed to building a company that will last 100+ years.

5. What kind of a CMO are you? Answer using a maximum of three adjectives.

Growth-oriented, long-term thinker and a fanatic team-builder.

Sharma at FIFA World Cup 2022, Doha

6. Tell us one personal thing about yourself that others might not know.
I have played professional state-level cricket in my younger days. Interestingly, one of my teammates went on to become a popular Bollywood actor!

7.  What needs to change in your industry when it comes to working culture?

Sharma with the AB InBev India team

Due to multiple real-time marketing (RTM) models followed across states, more transparency and similar data needs to flow across players in the industry.

In the alcobev sector, there is an increasingly urgent need to prioritise diversity and inclusion by aligning hiring strategies with this ethos. It is incumbent upon us as an industry, to communicate the message of how our products are intrinsically rooted in the values of localism, naturalism, and inclusivity, and how we bring people together to celebrate and spread cheer.

As we move ahead, we are committed to investing our energies in fostering a workplace environment that is welcoming, open to diverse perspectives, and encourages open communication. I firmly believe that creating a culture of inclusivity and diversity is not just the right thing to do, but it is also vital for the long-term success and growth of our brand.

8. What’s your favourite brand campaign that you participated in or wish you had?

I had the pleasure of being a part of Budweiser's global FIFA 2022 campaign—'The World Is Yours To Take' and localising it for India was a highlight for me. As part of the campaign, we curated a three-part documentary with Vice Media, 'The Indian Football Story,' to celebrate India's rich football history as well as its non-participation at World Cup 1950. 

Our FIFA campaign also featured Indian faces like Siddhant Chaturvedi, Masaba Gupta, Anushka Manchanda (KissNuka), and Shantanu Hazarika to inspire consumers and celebrate greatness.

I would have loved to be a part of P&G India's 'Share the Load' campaign for Ariel detergent.

This culturally insightful campaign highlights the importance of true equality in sharing domestic chores. The brand's consistent core creative idea effectively showcases everyday life situations while incorporating fresh creative thoughts.

9. Name another brand (can’t be yours) with an amazing customer experience that you really admire. Why is it great?

Apple. I truly admire it from a customer experience perspective. They have understood that each touch point with the customer matters, whether it is early in the journey or towards the end.

Apple provides a memorable and consistent experience at every point in the customer purchase journey, right from their website to their physical stores. If you have ordered any product via their website, till the time the product is delivered the brand ensures consistent communication. Moreover, the experience while opening the package of a brand-new Apple product is unmatchable! It is so seamless while sliding off the lid—the excitement, the anticipation, the joy—it all forms part of the experience. Consumers truly value a consistent experience across the value chain that makes them repeat buyers and hard-core advocates of the brand.

Campaign Asia

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