The Inside Story Of The Technology Behind World Cup’s Biggest Campaign

Imagine a future when smart connected packaging interacts with consumers and shoppers to create brand experiences that build equity and serve as the foundation for integrated marketing campaigns.

Under the leadership of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Global Director of Innovation Keenan Thompson and Budweiser’s Global Director Chris Perkins, we got a glimpse of this future with the Budweiser Light Up Cups at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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To deliver this innovation at scale, ABI took advantage of the unique capabilities of its Global Innovation Technology Center (GITEC), an internal group tasked with developing technology platforms that elevate ABI brands and change the beverage industry as a whole. As Thompson put it, “Packaging innovation is an extremely powerful marketing tool, but also one of the more difficult tools to leverage due to associated timelines and investments. To make it happen, you have to understand the perspectives and ambitions of all different stakeholders in the value chain. Our role is to do just that: then invent solutions that have a good balance of desirability, feasibility and viability, basically adding value to everyone in the chain and make the investment impactful over time.”

Thompson and the team at GITEC recognized early on, that smart connected packaging was an exciting space. From creating amazing consumer experiences to helping with inventory management, it has the capability to reshape the beer industry and better meet the needs of consumers, shoppers and retailers. So, starting three years ago, Thompson (who has a unique background in both engineering and marketing) did the legwork to understand the technology landscape, and what it would take to implement solutions at scale. From there, all he needed was a buyer within ABI. As luck would have it, around the same time Perkins was looking for ways to bring to life the spirit of Budweiser at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. “The World Cup represents four euphoric weeks of freedom,” he said. “Budweiser’s job is to amplify the euphoric energy the fans feel. That’s what we wanted to activate around.”

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After an initial meeting, the two quickly got excited about the potential for smart connected packaging to help Budweiser amplify the energy of fans at the World Cup and began planning in earnest. They found a reference point in the Budweiser Red Lights hockey campaign and worked from there to define requirements, come up with ideas and take a handful through final development. Along the way, they encountered many challenges – the most memorable of which was learning that Russian president Vladimir Putin, who could show up at any match, could shut down nearly every frequency in the stadium for security purposes, rendering WiFi, Bluetooth and other modes of communication with packaging useless. Working around constraints like these, they narrowed to Budweiser Light Up Cups, which utilized circuit technology to react to crowd noise, emitting a bold Budweiser red color in response to the energy of the fans. Only one thing remained: convincing FIFA that the cups would be more than just a visual vuvuzela, an annoying noisemaker popularized at the 2010 World Cup. It took less than half of a soccer match at the 2017 Confederations Cup to win over FIFA decision makers, who fell in love with their Budweiser cups lighting up to the ebbs and flow of the beautiful game during a demonstration in Russia. “We were lucky enough to be sitting with the FIFA folks at the game,” Thompson said. “They had the cups in their hands and felt it amplify their excitement, helping them enjoy their beer experience even more. We looked at each other and knew it worked.”

Once the concept was finalized, they had the near-impossible job of producing 8 million cups in 70+ versions for 50+ countries… in 4.5 months. Luckily, ABI is committed to innovation and rallied its resources to make possible the biggest marketing campaign in Budweiser history at the biggest event in the world. “This campaign is so big for us,” Perkins said. “To do something like this at scale, with speed, with all that logistical complexity is a real victory for Budweiser and our GITEC team.”

For Thompson, it’s just an example of what’s possible when stakeholders work together. “The only way innovation ever happens is if there’s some sort of positive for everyone involved,” he said. “It really helps to see the perspectives of other people, to understand their needs and how to best meet those needs.” In addition to the cups, Budweiser collaborated with Twitter to develop a new voting method for the Budweiser Man Of The Match and also launched the first-ever sound-activated Snapchat lens, which mirrored the functionality of the Light Up Cups. The campaign has helped Budweiser launch in new markets globally and will serve as a reference point going forward for new and exciting packaging innovations. “ABI and GITEC are here to support industry growth in smart packaging and printed electronics,” Thompson said. “We are never satisfied. We’re going to stay focused on what’s possible and keep improving our solutions, and if future partners have interesting technologies or capabilities, GITEC wants to hear about them.”