Can social networking sell more beer?
Here's the deal:
Minglenow is a social network dedicated to nightlife -- partying, bars, and restaurants. It has 300,000 members and is aiming to get well into the millions. While I don't drink (and some people would say I'm no fun at all), I can understand the appeal -- people form friendships and networks around nightlife, and this is a way to extend the connection, especially around photos of the people you were hanging out with having a good time. And hey, if you drank so much you didn't remember much, those photos could help remind you who it was you had your arm around last night and why his red, monogrammed hankie was left in the backseat of your car.
Now, imagine you are Anheuser Busch. You own the beer market -- your market share is around 45%. The real competition is wine and cocktails -- hence the "Here's To Beer" campaign which celebrates beer and doesn't mention any brands at all. You've already committed $30 million to create bud.tv, an extensive online video site about your brands. Why not spend (and we're guessing here) another million or so to try out social networking?
So "Here's To Beer" is sponsoring the "Clink" portion of minglenow, where people post photos of themselves clinking glasses. The branding on the site is subtle -- as Tom Shipley of Anheuser-Busch told us, "Beer doesn't have a name recognition problem." More interesting is this: A-B has tapped its 600 distributors and 300 other non A-B beer distributors to get kits out bars and other locations to generate interest in this activity.
OK, so let's assume after all this effort that minglenow takes off. Let's assume that people in bars all across America want to take pictures of themselves and upload them and become part of a "nightlife community." This might get people to go out more. It might get them to drink more beer, but I don't see how. I agree that an Anehuser-Busch "Budweiser" community probably doesn't make sense -- what do Budweiser drinkers have to talk to each other about? But what's the point of all this activity?
On the other hand, maybe I am thinking to much like a media analyst. Once you have a few million partyers in a social network, what would you do with them? Maybe this will all pay off down the line somewhere. Given Anheuser-Busch's market share and ad spend, why shouldn't they find out?