Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) is launching its first in-house agency in Europe as it looks to “work in a nimble and more agile way”.
The world’s biggest brewer launched the agency in Europe this February to inspire creativity and ensure brands are producing culturally relevant content in real-time. Dubbed ‘draftLine’, the hope is it will improve AB InBev’s creativity and “inspire” its marketers.
Julie Yufe, European VP of marketing, exclusively tells Marketing Week: “It’s a chance for our brands to be inspired, embrace creativity and learn in a way that you can only do when you’re really doing it yourself.
“[DraftLine] is bringing unique perspectives and experiences to challenges every day so we can work in a nimble and more agile way.”
DraftLine as a concept was first introduced in Colombia and has since expanded to Mexico and the US, with plans for a Canadian office also in the works.
The European pilot is based in London. It is currently only working across the UK’s Budweiser Brewing Group brands but if it is a success it will launch in France next.
Dries Mertens, the head of draftLine Europe, explains: “It’s like starting a new company within a company, so we have the backing and this nice office and location. We have the full marketing team and so much expertise behind us. We are the baby in the marketing department which is nice.”
DraftLine is centred around three main pillars: social listening, content creation and digital media buying. The hope is that by having the team based internally, the team will be able to tap into trends and conversations faster, making its communications more relevant.
Mertens explains: “We want to better understand what’s going on with the consumer, what’s relevant to pick up and [tap into] trends.
Our in-house agency is bringing unique perspectives and experiences to challenges every day so we can work in a nimble and more agile way.
Julie Yufe, AB InBev
“For example, if today Theresa May resigns we pick that up and we think this might be relevant for Bud Light. Someone in the creative team says ‘Oh I have a great content idea’ and we can make it in the same day and produce the content. Immediately the media-buying guy sitting next to them can see [what is being created] and can put some money behind it to amplify it.”
Yufe adds: “The market now moves at the pace of culture. Our consumers are not consuming media only between certain hours and with certain stacked media, they are in an ‘always on’ type of world and we need to be as well.
“In a world with increased social and digital media the pace is just so fast, so we need to be able to think with a full view versus what we did in the past”.
For that reason, AB InBev believes the social listening aspect will be most important. “We need our teams to know what’s going on in the world and in the lives of their consumers and be able to respond and market to them in a way that’s relevant in the right occasion, in the right time, with the right message,” Yufe explains.
Starting a marketing function from scratch
In Europe, the initiative is still in its infancy and the team has only eight people. However, that number is almost doubling every month and that growth is expected to continue.
Despite the rapid expansion, Mertens is keen to point out the company is taking it “step by step”.
“We don’t want to hire 100 people this quarter and then say, ‘oh this isn’t working’, so we take it step by step.”
AB InBev has hired from both within and outside the company for roles at draftLine, with the team having experience in sectors and roles, as well as agency side. What links the hires together, is an entrepreneurial spirit”.
Mertens explains: “All the roles created in draftLine are new [to our company] so have never been done before. This means we need people with an entrepreneurial spirit. There is no handbook [to refer to] so people need to create their own job and start from scratch.”
This is partly why hiring is a challenge and draftLine won’t grow too big too soon. “We need great people to make this a success and hiring great people takes time,” adds Mertens.
Despite only running for a few months, draftLine is already in demand from marketing teams at AB InBev, as well as other areas of the company
“People in the company come [to me] all the time asking ‘Can you help us out with this?’ but [I have to] pace it. I have 10 emails per day asking for help,” Mertens explains.
Yufe adds: “This is a company of big dreams and we’re dreaming big [with draftLine] but we can dream faster than we can actually process”.
The hope is that in-housing will encourage teams to think more outside the box.
She explains: “Previously where we might have been working in a traditional type of model now we sit side by side with our agencies and draftLine teams. It just makes for an interesting, rich discussion and challenges our teams to think slightly differently and therefore more creatively.”
Yufe is adamant that draftLine has been received well by the company’s agency partners and says the brewer has no plans to cut its roster.
She explains: “This complements our agencies because they get to do the big thinking and deliver big ideas, which is what they love to do and do really well, and let our team work out how we make the mix work for our consumers and our brands.”
Mertens echoes her view: “We see it as complement [to agencies]. Creativity can come from anywhere and if we have a great partner today we’d be stupid not to work with that partner anymore.”
For example, draftLine has been working on a project with a PR agency that Mertens says shows how teams can collaborate on work.
He explains: “The PR agency had part of the idea and then we worked on production and media planning. We were sitting together in the editing room – agency, client and draftLine – and it was as one team. If you work on a project you start to become one team.”
What does draftLine look like in five years’ time? There’s “no limit” to what can be achieved, according to Yufe: “A creative powerhouse in its own right, a thought-leader in the organisation and if we can leave a mark on history, or at least on culture, that will be a great success.”