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Bud Light Platinum

Bud Light Platinum

The world's biggest beer-maker is placing a big bet on a new brew.

Anheuser-Busch InBev this week is rolling out Bud Light Platinum, an upscale version of its best-selling label. It's the brewer's latest bid to pump up flagging sales of its flagship brand, and to counter liquor sales that are taking a bite out of beer industry-wide.

Platinum, which hit the shelves in St. Louis on Monday, has been in the works for four years, said Mike Sundet, A-B's senior director for Bud Light marketing. Geared to be a higher-end version of its namesake, it is still a clear light lager, though one with considerably more punch than Bud Light - 6 percent alcohol by volume compared to 4.2. It's a bit sweeter, and a bit smoother. And it's designed for drinking not so much around the backyard grill but in the club, or at least a classy bar.

"It's higher-end. It's sophisticated," Sundet said. "There's a time and a place where consumers are looking for drinks that make them feel like they're stepping up."

The beer comes in a distinctive, cobalt blue bottle. Its tag line is "top-shelf taste." It is being launched with two 30-second ads early in Sunday's Super Bowl, one which features a roomful of diverse, attractive young professionals sipping Platinum at an after-hours office party, complete with a DJ playing a track by Kanye West.

Platinum is a clear play for a demographic that has been bypassing beer in favor of the hard stuff more and more lately, said Ben Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights.

"They're going after the spirits drinker, there's no question about that," he said. "It's a very interesting play."

For the past decade or so, spirits have been eating into the market for beer, especially so-called "premium" lagers such as Budweiser and Bud Light. Liquor sales now make up more than one-third of the U.S. alcohol market, up from 28 percent in 2000, according to research firm Discus. Beer's share has fallen below 50 percent. Add in the fast growth of craft beers, and it's no surprise that sales of A-B's big brands have been slipping.

Platinum is "definitely not a craft beer," Sundet said. A-B has been trying to tap that market with its new Shock Top line and with deals like last year's acquisition of craft label Goose Island.

The new brew, Sundet says, is targeted more at people who have shifted to drinking spirits.

That could prove to be a good strategy, said David "Bump" Williams, a longtime industry analyst.

"If it's their intention to try and get some spirit shoppers back into beer, I think this could be it," he said. "Bud Light Platinum has a pretty good shot."

The track record for these Bud Light brand extensions is rather mixed.

A-B InBev launched Bud Light Lime in 2008, and it sells well, particularly in the summer months. It notched 1.77 million barrels in sales in 2010, according to Beer Marketer's Insights, good for 1 percent of the U.S. market.

A year later, out came Bud Light Golden Wheat, a more direct challenge to successful beers such as Miller Coors' Blue Moon. It never caught on with drinkers, selling at its peak just a few hundred thousand barrels. It's now nearly absent from shelves, and will be discontinued as Platinum ramps up, Sundet said.

"We're going to continue to try new things," he said. "Some are going to succeed. Some aren't."

NO CHEAP ENDEAVOR

Launching these beers isn't cheap. Sundet wouldn't say how much A-B InBev will spend to market Platinum, but the official kickoff comes with two ads during the Super Bowl, where a 30-second spot averages $3.5 million. And that's just for starters. There will be billboards and big events - like last week's St. Louis launch party at the Chase Park Plaza's Starlight Room and a happy hour for Wall Street traders on Wednesday - buzz on the internet and a barrage of TV and radio ads to come. Steinman estimates A-B InBev shelled out at least $30 million apiece marketing Bud Light Lime and Golden Wheat in their launch years, and a similar plan for Platinum is likely.

"Platinum will be out there. ‘Ubiquitous' could be just a slight exaggeration," he said. "The A-B distribution network still absolutely has the capability to push it. Retailers are interested in it. It's going to get TV advertising and support."

But however much A-B InBev may push Platinum in the next few months, the true test will come later. Will people buy that second six-pack once the novelty wears off? Will they actually order it instead of a gin and tonic?

It's far too soon to know. While Platinum started to hit shelves in Texas and a few other markets last week, its national rollout began Monday.

Here in St. Louis Platinum displays started popping up at grocery stories by Tuesday and there 12-packs stacked seven-high at Randall's Wine and Spirits in south St. Louis. But several bars along Washington Avenue downtown said they weren't carrying the new beer just yet.

At The Over/Under Bar and Grill, general manager Brian McAfee was taking a wait-and-see approach before deciding how much space he would give to the blue bottles in the refrigerator behind the bar.

"We'll definitely try some out," he said. "But we may wait until people start asking for it."

A-B InBev hopes a lot of people do, said Williams, for it has much riding on Platinum. It's their shot to bite back at spirits, to woo drinkers who have turned away from beer, to show they can produce a new product just as well as their rivals at MillerCoors. And it's obvious the brewery is putting a lot into its new brand, from the beer to the ads to the stuff consumers don't see.

"The wholesalers are doing their job. The packaging folks have done a phenomenal job developing a beautiful package. Everything's good," he said.

"Now, is it what the consumer wants?"

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1. The infamous "wardrobe malfunction" halftime show in 2004 starred Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake. They overshadowed the performances of three rappers during the same show. Who did NOT perform at that Super Bowl?
Wrong.Right. Eminem. The halftime show is now televised on delay to avoid any further displays of nudity. They wanted to nip it in the bud.
2. The first three Super Bowls featured traditional college marching bands at halftime. Super Bowl IV in 1970 in New Orleans featured a Broadway and film actress/singer who did a tribute to Mardi Gras. Who was it?
Wrong.Right. Carol Channing. Thankfully, there were no wardrobe malfunctions during her performance.
3. In 2002 at Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, U2 performed three songs during their halftime show. Which one of these four songs got left off the play list?
Wrong.Right. "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Unfortunately, it was a bloody Sunday for the Rams, who lost to the New England Patriots 20-17.
4. In the early days of the Super Bowl, the halftime show was decidedly family-oriented (read: boring). The schmaltzy pop group Up With People performed during how many Super Bowls?
Wrong.Right. Four times (1976, '80, '82 and '86). A documentary about the group ("Smile 'Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story") debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
5. In 1993, the ratings for the halftime show were higher than for the game itself for the first time. What pop icon performed that year and changed the perception of the halftime show forever?
Wrong.Right. Michael Jackson. I'm sure Jacko attracted big numbers, but the game's ratings had to suffer with the Dallas Cowboys slaughtering the Buffalo Bills, 52-17.
6. In 2006 during halftime of Super Bowl XL, the Rolling Stones performed three songs on a giant tongue-shaped stage. The set included a new song, "Rough Justice," from a recent album and what two older classics?
Wrong.Right. "Start Me Up" and "Satisfaction." Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were both LXII years old at the time. I think I see a little moss gathering on them at this point.
7. For the first 10 years of the 21st century, the halftime show was headlined by aging Baby Boomer rock bands. Which of these megastar dinosaurs has not wheezed through the Super Bowl extravaganza?
Wrong.Right. Led Zeppelin. The Black Eyed Peas' performance in 2011 broke a streak of shows by potential AARP members.
8. During his halftime show in 2005, Paul McCartney played four songs, including a Wings hit ("Live and Let Die") and three Beatles classics. Which of these Beatles tunes did he NOT perform?
Wrong.Right. "Yesterday." Sir Paul also did not perform "When I'm Sixty-Four." He was 62 and a half at the time.
9. In 1991, a pop boy band was the lone performer at halftime. Which one of these groups played at Super Bowl XXV that year?
Wrong.Right. New Kids on the Block. They have reunited and will tour this summer although they are neither New nor Kids.
10. Before the kickoff in 1991, a stirring rendition of the national anthem was performed by which singer? Later, it was learned that she lip-synced to a recording that was played for the stadium and TV audience.
Wrong.Right. Whitney Houston. It is not true that they tried to book Milli Vanilli to "sing" it the following year.
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CREDITS: Quiz by Tom Borgman and Stephanie Cope