Budweiser Says Goodbye to Wade With New Sports Strategy

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Dwayne Wade Budweiser
Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Dwyane Wade only knew he had to trade five extra jerseys for Budweiser.

Wade traded jerseys with other NBA players throughout this season, his last, so as Budweiser planned its farewell salute, he entrusted the brewery to surprise him with the resulting tribute video. All they told him was he’d be trading five more jerseys.

Budweiser then presented Wade with the opportunity to trade jerseys with five of the fans he impacted most throughout his career, including his mom, and the results were shown in a tribute video released Tuesday. Rather than his athletic accomplishments, Budweiser desired to show his off-the-court contributions to the world.

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The Wade video isn’t the only farewell tribute video produced by Budweiser, the brewer released similar videos for Derek Jeter and Dale Earnhardt Jr., but it is part of a broader sports strategy for the company, Budweiser Vice President of Marketing Monica Rustgi said.

“The last two years, we’ve found a sweet spot in sports, celebrating iconic cultural moments,” Rustgi said. “We always look for these once-in-a-lifetime moments, and it was undeniable with [Wade’s] track record beyond the court was a story we had to tell.”

Budweiser shot two versions of the video, a long-form 4-minute version and a 90-second spot, the four-minute video debuted Tuesday morning on social channels and played prior to Wade’s last home game in Miami. The 90-second spot broadcast during the game on FOX Sports Sun. Wednesday the campaign will continue during his final road game.

Budweiser wasn’t the only company to release a tribute video to Wade, as Twitter released a video with a variety of exclusive interviews with people close to him, such as wife Gabrielle Union and former teammates Chris Bosh, Shaq, and Caron Butler.

Budweiser’s campaign centered on Wade is part of a deepening storytelling effort by using active players. The brewer reached deals with both the MLB and NBA players unions last year for the ability to use active players. Previously, the company could only use former players.

“For us, it’s a huge milestone as it pertains to how we advertise and market,” Rustgi said. “Budweiser has a long legacy of sports marketing, one of the first to understand the opportunity to bring our message to sports. But we realized we had to evolve, pivot from being the billboard in the stadium to being a meaningful part of the sports story.”

The acquisition of player rights can be a big step for the beer brand, said David Meltzer, founder of Sports 1 Marketing and S1Media, mentioning the viral success of the Wade video on Tuesday.

“People buy on emotion for logical reasons,” Meltzer said. “AB InBev’s acquisition of the rights to use MLB and NBA players in uniform is certainly a big change for the brewer and, as the recent Dwayne Wade ad shows, this is a great way to tie in relevant athletes and their emotional stories to the Budweiser brands.”

Rustgi said the Budweiser teams realized the brand could go deeper by embracing the idea sports are part of their fans’ lifestyles.

“Players get us that much closer to their sport and their stories drive the connection,” she said.

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The deals struck with the unions were meant to help highlight active legends on and off the court or field, at local and national levels, Rustgi said. 

While there are no such deals with the NHL, NFL or other leagues currently, Rustgi said Budweiser will continue to capitalize on strong cultural moments in sports, like a commercial memorializing last year’s Stanley Cup Final run by the Vegas Golden Knights.

“The most important piece for us is there is a moment in sport where someone has impacted the sport and community,” she said. “We won’t stop if there is a moment to highlight, whether or not it’s a focused sport.”