Bud Light’s genius ‘victory fridges’ unlock the power of a good stunt

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The Background

It’s hard being a sports fan at the best of times, but it’s even harder if you’re a fan of the Cleveland Browns, the NFL (American football) team who can legitimately lay claim to being the most cursed team in US sports, perhaps in all sports.

Last year, the Browns had the ignoble honour of being only the second team in NFL history to not win a single game in a season. Imagine the team you support losing every single game in the season – every single game. Not one single win. Zilch. Zero. Ouch.

There’s a reason why the Browns’ home stadium, FirstEnergy Stadium, is nicknamed the ‘Factory of Sadness’.

The Big Idea

Low-calorie beer brand Bud Light is the official sponsor of the NFL and its schtick is being the beer brand that really gets NFL fans and NFL fan culture.

This year it wanted to find a way to show solidarity with the people of Cleveland – a group of fans who hadn’t seen their team win in over 635 days.

The idea was simple – when you support a really rubbish team, like the Cleveland Browns, you celebrate even the small things and winning even one game feels like winning the Super Bowl championship.

So, Bud Light offered fans of the Cleveland Browns fridges of free beer to celebrate – if the Browns could win a game – not a Super Bowl – a single game.

What They Did

Bud Light placed branded ‘victory fridges’ in bars around Cleveland with the slogan “When the Browns win, Cleveland wins” on the side. Each fridge was padlocked with instructions stating that it should only be opened in the event of the Browns winning an actual football game.

Usually a pithy stunt like this might attract a certain amount of local media coverage, but even Bud Light must have been surprised at how big it became.  

The 2018 NFL season started and miraculously the Browns were a single kick away from beating their hated local rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers. The kick was blocked - because of course it was.

They tied, and in the post-match social media conversations fans weren’t just talking about the team, they were talking about the fridges remaining unopened for another week.  Again, the next week – Cleveland had a shot to win the game against the Saints – they lost, but again fans were talking about the fridges.  Last week the Browns played the New York Jets and inspired by rookie Quarterback Baker Mayfield – they finally won a game.

Cue shots of delirious fans at the game and in bars holding up signs saying, “Open The Coolers” and live TV news coverage of the Bud Light ‘victory fridges’ being opened up across the city. Actual footage of fridges being unpadlocked – Bodyguard it wasn’t.

The Review

When the opening of a branded beer fridge in Cleveland becomes a global news moment, you know you’ve done something right.  Grown men and women were weeping tears of joy at being handed a free can of Bud Light – which, let’s admit, wouldn’t be your number one beverage choice if you were standing at the bar.

Bud Light managed to achieve a sustained peak in coverage – from the announcement of the victory fridges in mid-August right the way to the Browns’ win last week which is darn impressive for what is essentially a small-scale PR stunt. The activity succeeded because the ‘victory fridges’ became part of the Cleveland Brown’s story – for Cleveland fans they became a symbol of hope and that the team’s luck might turnaround in the future.

In Hindsight

As Nike has shown with its recent Colin Kaepernick campaign, it is possible to be an official NFL sponsor and still take a stand on big social issues, would it be too much to ask to see more big brands doing likewise and challenging the status quo a bit more through their ATL campaigns?  

In the USA, few things stimulate change more than big name and big bucks sponsors withdrawing ad support from institutions like the NFL, particularly a brand as big as Bud Light.

Cheers.

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Will Holloway

Will Holloway

  • Senior creative
  • Fever PR

Read Will Holloway 's bio and content

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