LAS VEGAS— The email that I received prior to my arrival in Sin City was specific. Representatives in blue-logoed polo shirts and black pants would be waiting by door 51 at Terminal C. They would escort me to the bus that would take me to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino—dubbed for this week only as the Bud Light Hotel. I was surprised as the shuttle bus passed by the iconic multi-story tall neon guitar that is the icon of the hotel, the same one famously smashed in the climactic scene of the cinematic tour-de-force that is Nicholas Cage’s “Con Air.” Personally, I was expecting a multi-story Bud Light bottle.
I won’t often write in first person, but given that a hotel stay is a personal experience to the guest, I hope you will forgive this temporary break from form. As someone that regularly covers the beer industry, staying in what was essentially a commercial for two nights was a surreal experience.
Bud Light as a brand is a marketing force to be reckoned with. In recent years Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgian company that owns the brand, has been smart to attach it to promotions, events and artists that it believes will enhance its cache. Despite sales dropping 1.3 percent last year, according to Symphony IRI, a firm that monitors the industry, Bud Light is still rolling out millions of barrels of beer per year.
One such marketing tactic that keeps the brand in the public eye is this hotel concept. For the last several years Bud Light hotels have been popping up around the country tagged to specific events, like the National Nightclub & Bar Show (part of the reason I was recently in Las Vegas) as well as the Super Bowl. It was held in New Jersey this year, and the brand rented out a 4,000 passenger Norwegian cruise ship, docked it on the New York side of the Hudson River, and held a multi-day party for guests and visitors. The hotel concept made its first appearance in 2010, according to an emailed statement from Rob McCarthy, Vice President for Bud Light at Anheuser-Busch.
So there I was in Sin City, walking through a side entrance under the blue neon Bud Light Hotel sign, past the doors branded with the same logo, into a hospitality room thumping with dance music, complete with an indoor basketball hoop, a bar made of ice, and plenty of young women in very short shorts and very tight tank tops, also emblazoned with the Bud Light logo.
At check-in I was presented with a backpack with the logo pressed on, and various other logoed items, including a bottle coozie. Upon entering the room the branding deepened. The do-not-disturb card was emblazoned with Bud Light, as was the soap, the bottles of shampoo, and the room service menu (although judging by dusty layer on the $6 bag of potato chips resting on the dresser, there isn’t much in-room noshing taking place at the Hard Rock.)
Because the logo was everywhere I turned, I was genuinely confused that the one thing that I would expect a beer brand to offer—a logoed bottle opener—was simply a generic metal one, (made in China, according to the sticker.) The type that’s generally found in a plastic fishbowl at the checkout counter of a liquor store.
Curious as well were the bottles of Bud Light in the mini-fridge. It’s a beer best enjoyed fresh—it has about a four-month shelf life according to a brewer with the company—and the ones in my fridge were at the three-month mark. Not stale by any means, but certainly not super fresh.
So, back down to the hospitality room I went, where just-packaged 16-ounce aluminum bottle-shaped cans with twist off caps (eliminating the need for bottle openers) were offered from behind a bar made of ice. When I walked in, one of the gentlemen dressed in kahkis and a black polo-shirt was jokingly calling out “Coors Light!” I raised an eyebrow as he passed me a Bud Light, and got the response, “No one can tell the difference.”
The room was filled with the young women in their tight, revealing Bud Light uniforms, happily shooting hoops or dancing. On at least one evening the uniform was traded for white dresses. The men remained in khakis and polo shirts, or grey t-shirts.
“We typically hire temporary staff for events like Bud Light Hotel based on personality and fit with the brand image,” said McCarthy. “In other words, we prefer to hire coed staffers who are fun, social, and are demographically consistent with our primary target of millennials.”
McCarthy says the Bud Light Hotel is “designed to be the ultimate fusion of sports and music, and its goal is to be the entertainment destination at the events where it’s staged.”
It’s all of that for sure. It’s also a testament to what money can buy. However, in covering this industry for a decade now I’ve come to know beer as personal to its drinkers, and that people are very loyal to their preferred brands. Bud Light is no exception, and I met people everywhere who were clearly tickled about staying at the hotel, for the experience of personally connecting with a brand they usually see on television or in their refrigerator.
Same for the Anheuser-Busch employees staying at the hotel. They are loyal to their company and their brands. They wear it on their sleeves, and are a good reminder that behind every multi-national corporation there are men and women who care, and work hard. I admire that a great deal.
It’s a stunt, sure, but the guest interaction helped humanize a brand that can sometimes—at least from a media standpoint—be as cold as the suggested serving temperature.
“We want visitors to have a great time, and to feel like staying at Bud Light Hotel was a truly unforgettable experience,” wrote McCarthy.
Well, mission accomplished.
John Holl is the editor of All About Beer Magazine. He may be reached at JohnHoll@AllAboutBeer.com or via Twitter @John_Holl.