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March 02, 2007

Can social networking sell more beer?

Clink_1 by Josh Bernoff

We got briefed yesterday by Anheuser Busch and BlueLithium, the creator of the minglenow social network, on their new alliance.

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?

Heres2beer_logo 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?

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Paul Sweeney

Don't know if my last comment went through, had a crash! anyway, perhaps this could be useful as a Social Network Analysis tool, to identify the hipsters, and move them towards your brand, in highly visible locations. Diageo tried to do the "free drinks" angle on it with NightFly and that didn't work. Maybe this is where you are just bare faced looking to find people that are 18-28 and looking for a good time!

Nick Wilson

This happened last year. Where's the news?

Josh Bernoff

Fair point, Nick. The A-B and minglenow execs are promoting this right now, which is how we got briefed, but it appears things got underway late last year. This may be the beginning of their outreach in markets -- the real launch.



Josh and Charlene,
Great picture of the two of you...



I hate that thing. I don't even want to hear the name of that thing and marketing that thing on social networks is at least HORRIBLE for me.

Paul Sweeney

With regards "hard launch" of a social network, perhaps it has to have a certain degree of success with the target early adopters before it can benefit from a push to other segments. It might be interesting to see if their are "legal implications" in building a social network around alcohol. In many European countries it is illegal to advertise alcohol, or sponsor sporting events.

Brian Laks

I support Anheuser Busch's attempt to wiggle into the social network space. Maybe it's the cynic in me, but I like seeing global corporations' sneaky, unconventional strategies to spread their brand. Like pizza hut giving coupon books to school kids, not only a form of pseudo child labor but also promoting poor health and obesity by giving away free pizzas. bravo.

Tom Grant

On a related subject (people using social networking to mingle), a recent Scientific American podcast had an interesting interview with Robert Epstein. In it, he said that social networking is adding a "quality control" layer to meeting people online. For example, your network of contacts can give you feedback on someone with whom you've connected via MySpace, Match.com, or some similar vehicle. Here's the link to the podcast:



Brewtopia is a Web 2.0 beer company that allowed its members to vote on the development of their Blowfly beer and gave them shares for voting ,singing up friends and buying the beer before they listed on the Newcastle Stock Exchange in Australia and now their biggest business is custom labels created by customers with their Beer Builder.


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