It’s hard to think of a brand more active in entertainment marketing and product placement than Budweiser. Sometimes the beer’s role in a film is subtle, such as Bud’s presence in Netflix’s House of Cards. Other times, not so much, as our Lifetime Achievement nod to Bud’s product placement prowess noted.
Now, the man behind much of the success of Anheuser-Busch’s entertainment marketing activation is making a leap to the agency side. We spoke with Jim Holleran, Anheuser-Busch’s longtime Director of Entertainment Marketing, as he was settling into agency life as the new EVP and head of entertainment at Reach in Los Angeles, where he still works with AB’s brands, only now it’s from the other side of the desk.
“At Anheuser-Busch, we’ve seen the benefits of Jimmy’s long-standing industry relationships, and he’s always delivered such great results” said Shana Barry, Senior Experiential Manager at Anheuser-Busch. “We look forward to partnering with Reach Entertainment and Jimmy, continuing to break new ground in this evolving new world of entertainment marketing.”
Holleran is already busy solidifying deals at Reach including the upcoming A Star is Born reboot with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Additionally, the agency has been refreshing Bud Lite’s Dive Bar Tour—a club concert series that Lady Gaga debuted last year to promote her album Joanne—with performances by John Mayer and G-Eazy. A number of other high-profile talent partnerships for AB brands will be announced before the end of the year. Holleran told us more in a Q&A:
Jimmy, in our years of covering product placement and entertainment marketing, Budweiser appeared in more #1 Hollywood films than all other beer brands combined. How did Bud maintain that incredible resume?
It wasn’t easy. Working for over 25 years in the business, I’ve developed great relationships with everyone from A-list talent to set decorators. Hollywood is still very much a relationship business and while there is more transparency now on what projects are being developed, relationships and being a good partner have been our key to bringing in the right properties with the right brands.
Reach Agency and AB InBev take a ton of pride in moving deals quickly. We have the ability to review a script and act immediately upon the delivery thanks to over 700 AB InBev wholesalers across the country. A big thanks to our “Bud” guys out here making it happen.
Product placement and brand integration has never been more diverse, with more platforms to augment TV and movies, whereas onscreen brand totals have been declining. How has entertainment marketing evolved beyond ‘your brand here’ on-screen product placement from your point of view?
With digital, things are changing rapidly. Additional sources of funding and many more distribution outlets have created a lot more opportunities for us to consider for clients.
It has never been more important to be more selective and strategic in how we activate on behalf of our clients to ensure that we are creating valuable moments that are memorable and cut through the clutter. For example, with Anheuser-Busch InBev we have moved beyond targeting every bar scene and focused on more situation-based targeting (in films and television).
Right now, Reach is working on deals that blend Budweiser seamlessly into lifestyle storylines, celebrations and music for Bud Light, while for Stella Artois we’re aligning with aspirational and sophisticated characters and scenes.
Measuring the ROI for product placement has always been one of the trickiest aspects of the practice. What have you learned over your career about how best to measure product placement ROI?
ROI and measurement have certainly evolved over the last few years. The most important thing is to align with your client first on their internal measures of success. Measurement really depends on the program.
If there’s a promotion, we can easily bucket measurement into traditional PR and digital measurement standards such as brand lift and purchase intent. Besides that, we primarily rely on a media-based valuation, taking into consideration the endorsement value that the product association may attribute to the brand.
Reach and AB InBev now have partners that are assisting not only with beer category data but the entire entertainment landscape. We are generating exceptional data, which leads to more precise decisions on integrations.
— Mark Wahlberg (@mark_wahlberg) October 27, 2017
Mark Wahlberg, a product placement maven in his own right, tweeted congrats on your move to Reach. How will those kinds of relationships work for Reach? Will you be handling more than Anheuser-Busch InBev brands?
This is really just the beginning. We are incredibly honored to have Anheuser-Busch InBev as our client. Our long-range goal is to grow the business with like-minded clients that are interested in our evolved approach to entertainment marketing, focusing on the best entertainment, no matter what channel or screen.
More and more brands are finding their way into entertainment, and with our deep background in the industry—my colleagues Frank Catapano and Gabe Gordon come from William Morris Endeavor—we’ve got the experience and connections to make things happen in all sorts of brand categories, from automobiles and fashion to cutting-edge technology.
We can also do it faster than most other players because we are not siloed and staffed with a huge bureaucracy like the traditional agencies in this space. Basically, with Reach, brands can plug and play.
Of all your activations over the years, what are one or two of your favorite placements?
No way I can narrow my favorite placements to just a couple, so here’s my shortlist: Jon Hamm with a cold Bud can in Mad Men, Jennifer Lawrence with a Bud in Silver Linings Playbook, Ryan Gosling with a Stella Artois in La La Land, Vince Vaughn with a Bud in Swingers and Mark Wahlberg with an incredible Bud Light scene in Transformers.