The day after Super Bowl LII, USA TODAY ranked the top 5 ads based on feedback from thousands of panelists who voted for their favorite Super Bowl ad. From a list of 65 commercials, Budweiser’s “Stand By You,” came in third, reinforcing the power of storytelling in brand marketing.
Budweiser’s Super Bowl 2018 ad “Stand By You” tugs at the heartstrings because actual employees are at its heart.
Major brands don’t spend $5 million to air a 60-second spot during the Super Bowl without doing a lot of research. The ads represent months of research, hundreds of hours of planning by marketing teams, dozens of scripts, and 14-hour days of filming. Budweiser has done its research, discovering that real stories of actual employees create stronger brand loyalty and employee engagement. Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser ad for Super Bowl 2018 is an extension of a brand campaign that leverages the power of storytelling to make an emotional connection with its customers and its employees.
The ad “Stand By You” which has topped 12 million views on YouTube alone, features employees at a brewery in Cartersville, Georgia. The story is about their effort to convert the beer production process into producing emergency drinking water to cities effected by natural disasters. The plant has provided nearly 80 million cans of clean drinking water for disaster relief across the country. On the weekend of the Super Bowl, Budweiser dedicated its entire homepage to telling the story of its 30-year history of water donation.
“It’s a real story,” Ricardo Marques, Budweiser’s vice president of marketing, told USA TODAY sports. “It’s about our people. We don’t have actors in this spot.” By using real employees and not actors to showcase their brand, Budweiser recognizes that—with rare exceptions—people aren’t motivated to work for a company simply because of its products; they want to be inspired by what the brand stands for.
Let’s look at the Budweiser ad more closely in 15-second scenes.
First 15 seconds: In the backstory, a man receives a call in the middle of the night, splashes water on his face, kisses his sleeping wife, and heads to the plant. His name is Kevin Fahrenkrog, the General Manager of the Cartersville Brewery.
15 to 30 seconds: Employees are shown retrofitting the plant’s equipment and labeling system to fill cans with water.
30 to 45 seconds: Employees join relief efforts to deliver the water to communities impacted by natural disasters.
45 to 60 seconds: In the story’s conclusion, Kevin and his wife are having dinner that night. Music rolls and credits, like a movie, show the cities where Budweiser participated in relief efforts: Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, California. The story ends with the tagline, “Whenever you need us; We’ll stand by you.”
Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad reminds leaders that employees feel good about working at brands that do good.
“People are more engaged with their work if they perceive it to be meaningful,” according to a large-scale study by the Canadian Conference Board. “Employees will consider their work meaningful if the results make a difference in some measurable way to something that is important to them.”
Study after study finds that meaningful work and purpose-driven brands attract top performers, especially millennials who make up the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Brands that leverage storytelling in all its forms and across platforms have an advantage in recruiting and retaining the best employees.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve worked directly with CEOs and leaders at many of the world’s most admired brands. I’ve met with employees to understand why they feel especially connected to the company. Very few can recite the company’s entire mission statement from start to finish, but they all have a story to share. And more often than not, the stories aren’t about achieving a sales goal. The stories that motivate employees are real stories of real co-workers or leaders who make the world a better place.
“In the knowledge economy, the workplace relies heavily on trust, engagement, and goodwill,” writes Duke University behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, in his book Payoff. The importance of making everyone feel “deeply connected to the enterprise” is fundamental to building that relationship, he says. Ariely’s research has shown that leaders who infuse their companies with purpose and meaning see a remarkable boost in work quality, morale, and productivity and, yes, profits.
Purpose and meaning are abstract concepts. Stories make those concepts tangible to customers and employees. Leaders in any industry can learn a valuable lesson from the Budweiser campaign: the people behind the product are often your best marketers.