Fermenting creativity and data, Alejandro Gershberg at the AB InBev beer company talks to LBB’s Laura Swinton about a legendary football match featuring Mexico America vs Chivas, filling feeds with good news and gamifying recycling
Mexico is the undersung hero of the international beer industry. It’s the world’s biggest beer exporter and is home to Corona, one of the world’s best-selling beers. When it comes to creativity, the Mexican beer industry is also fizzing, led by Grupo Modelo which picked up the country’s first ever Titanium Lion this year at Cannes.
Grupo Modelo is the AB InBev-owned brewer that makes and sells brands like Corona, Modelo Especial, Pacífico and Estrella Jalisco. But the powerhouse ground to a halt when the government ordered them to close their plants for two months, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. In response, and to keep spirits high across the country, they created The Match of the Ages, a carefully stitched together football match featuring the two biggest Mexican soccer teams. 90 minutes of play was woven together using archive footage, bringing together legendary players as never before. The match was aired on prime time TV and became the number one trending topic in a country of soccer-starved football fans.
Since then, Grupo Modelo has been on a creative roll, thanks to their open brief system internally and an inventive use of data. In the summer they launched "Noticieros Modelo", a positive news show created as an antidote to the overwhelming polarisation and bad news populating most people’s feeds. For Oceans Week, they decided to gamify litter picking and recycling by launching the first Plastic Fishing Championship - 30 boats competed to gather up plastic bottles over four hours, raising awareness and clearing 2,904kg of plastics from the seas.
Alejandro Gershberg is Marketing Director, Consumer Connections México for Grupo Modelo opens up about the how the business is fermenting its creative marketing.
LBB> Congratulations on winning the Titanium Lion at Cannes this year! It’s a first for Mexico, I believe. Can you tell me about what the brief or conversations were that kick started the idea?
Alejandro> Mexico is a country that lives around soccer. When the reality around you is tough, in a country where 40% of the population lives in extreme poverty, soccer sometimes is the only way out. Soccer is a source of passion and happiness and always comes better with a beer in hand. As the sponsor of eight soccer teams and the national team, Corona supports providing soccer to the people.
Also, the government ordered us to close our plant for two months because of the pandemic and sales were down. Without soccer, we were in trouble.
LBB> Something like The Match of the Ages doesn’t just come from nowhere – what’s been happening within the marketing team to enable these kinds of creative ideas?
Alejandro> By having open briefs and 100% transparency on the business objectives and gaps with our partners, we had the chance to hear amazing ideas. In this world, where the attention economy has become the most important focus for brands, we try to always add value and entertainment to our consumers.
LBB> What do you think drove the popularity of the project?
Alejandro> After more than 60 days without live soccer, giving the country back the most iconic game —Mexico America vs Chivas — brought back a piece of normal life in a moment when Mexico was really missing soccer. To create "El clásico de la historia", a never-before-seen 90-minute game, we stitched together the best plays from over the last 70 years—beloved athletes from different decades were sharing the field for the first time. The audience became so engaged with the experience that they anticipated the results like if it was being played in real-time.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the role of purpose in your marketing?
Alejandro> In a crowded world, where millions of brands compete for our attention every day, there is only space for brands that provide value to the people, that have a clear reason for existing, and that understand their power not only as a product but as a brand. We are true believers that iconic brands must provide value to people.
LBB> What are the particular challenges and opportunities facing the beer and alcoholic beverage sector in Mexico at the moment?
Alejandro> Mexico is the number one exporter of beers with some of the most powerful brands around the world, so the competition will always be present — but the sector will always be impacted by innovation of products, line extensions, and even new categories. The portfolio that will be able to connect with different types of consumers (18-24, older than 60, women from 30-50) will take the lead in this neck-and-neck race.
LBB> You oversee a wealth of global brands in the Mexican market – how do you make sure they’re resonating properly with people in Mexico while staying true to the overall global brand?
Alejandro> When we talk about global brands, the essence of a brand should never change. Brands will always have attributes that will engage with different audiences and countries, but the way to connect with people across markets requires staying relevant to the roots of the brand and understanding who is on the other side of the screen.
LBB> Aside from The Match of the Ages, what other projects have you been proud of recently and why?
Alejandro> To celebrate this year’s Oceans Week, a global effort to help combat plastic pollution and contribute to the conservation of our beaches, Corona organized the first edition of the Plastic Fishing Championship to raise awareness about the pollution of the Mexican oceans and generate a circular economy. In this event, 30 boats from the coasts of Sinaloa collected 2,904 kg of plastic in a period of 4 hours.
Alejandro> We live in the moment of data-driven creativity and decision-making. To best understand our audiences, we can create performance marketing campaigns with a full-funnel strategy that will help us share the right message to the right person at the right time. Data is the new currency but only if you understand how to unleash its full potential.
Our "Noticieros Modelo" campaign, a newscast that only gave "good news" during the summer with strong promotions of our entire portfolio. With this, we ventured into predictive marketing at the B2C level as well as in the B2B. We adjusted all content based on audiences, basing creativity on data, not only those directed to the consumer but also to B2B. We put the consumer at the center; we understood their motivations, feelings, interests and needs, searching through data and audiences to approach them at the right time with the right message. This type of marketing is undoubtedly a useful tool for understanding the new brand-consumer relationship and for marketers to turn this knowledge into effective and innovative strategies.
LBB> How has the pandemic transformed Grupo Modelo’s approach to marketing?
Alejandro> Now more than ever, our marketing team has had to create campaigns that connect with what is important for the people at this moment and remain empathetic and close to the needs and desires of our consumers. The more connected you are with your consumers — understanding your role, the challenges of the attention economy and what makes your brand and product different — is the key to success.
LBB> Beer and alcoholic beverages traditionally do lots of experiential/event-led marketing. Of course, that was disrupted by the pandemic but is that still an important part of the marketing mix?
Alejandro> We comprehend the key role that our brands play for consumers at live events, but the impact of Covid has necessitated a hybrid approach to events that exist as both a physical and digital activation. It is one of the reasons we are constantly innovating with campaigns like "El clásico de la Historia”. Live events may be drastically transformed for the foreseeable future, but a transformational mindset that puts innovation at the forefront is the way we keep our brands relevant and close to people.
LBB> How do you approach the way you work with your agencies and external collaborators? And how do you balance that with inhouse creative or production?
We are confident that it will always be important to work with the greatest creative minds of the marketing industry; they are capable of bringing ideas, approaches and strategies that we will never find internally because of the daily blindness and bias of our day-to-day. But when we find the sweet spot of bringing the best from the outside and connecting it with the experience, knowledge and efficiency of DraftLine, our internal agency, we can work together for a faster and more productive process. Never scarifying creativity but always trying to make it more efficient and performance-driven.
LBB> There’s a lot of talk about short term versus long term marketing objectives and the tension between them. What are your thoughts on this, as marketers… is it a tricky balancing act? A false dichotomy? How do you approach those different goals at Grupo Modelo?
Alejandro> We tend to see short-term and long-term marketing objectives as pieces of the same puzzle. To gain the long-term strategy, it’s important to set the relevant steps that should be 100% connected to the short-term strategy. Without quick wins, there’s no progress.
The most important thing is to have clear guidance. In our case, it is key to see where the future of our industry is going — to know what people are expecting from beverages, from beer occasions and how we can make their life easier, lighter and more purpose-driven. Then connect that with the business results, prioritizing ROI, data-driven creativity, consumer centricity and performance.
LBB> Looking forward, what are the new developments or opportunities that are really exciting you?
Alejandro> We are heading into a year where experiences will be more valuable than ever for consumers, a year where beer will be able to reconnect people that have been separated for almost two years. It is a World Cup year and there will be a lot of exciting challenges within the industry. We will see the launch of many new innovations, industry disruptors, and the balance of learning from the pandemic. We will also have the enthusiasm and richness of being all together again. The mix of all this is exciting and inspiring.