Dentsu Aegis Network

Newsroom Editor

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On Jackie Robinson Day (April 15), when the first pitch gets tossed at baseball stadiums, Major League Baseball's official beer partner, Budweiser, will toast Robinson, one of the sport's most influential players.  The day, which marks what would be Robinson's centennial birthday, commemorates his achievement as the sport's first African-American professional baseball player.  As a long-time MLB marketing partner, Budweiser is paying homage to Robinson with a season-long campaign titled "Project 42" after his Brooklyn Dodgers' number.  It will celebrate his legacy to baseball and American society including TV, social media, digital and on-site activations and a commemorative bottle.

For any brand -- let alone one as ingrained in American culture as Budweiser -- working with a cultural icon like Robinson requires a deft touch, honor and respect, according to executives from Budweiser and its advertising agency Dentsu Aegis Network.  "When we say, 'This Bud's for you,' we are raising a beer to celebrate people who share our values and the values behind the true American spirit," said Ricardo Marques, Budweiser's Group Vice President for Marketing, Core and Value Brands.  "As an example of courage, resilience and altruism, Jackie Robinson represents what we believe in."

"With its long-standing relationship with the Jackie Robinson Foundation and as the official beer of MLB, to allow them to celebrate an icon of the sport as well as lean on their historic association made absolutely perfect sense," added Duncan Smith, Dentsu Aegis's Global President of Client Services.  Dentsu Aegis Network's Vizeum and Isobar Brazil handled the campaign's creative and the media buying and planning.

The centerpiece of Budweiser's comprehensive "Project 42" campaign is a three-minute short film titled Impact, directed by Academy Award winner Spike Lee and narrated by Robinson's daughter, Sharon Robinson.  The film, which debuted on opening day (March 28), juxtaposes archival baseball footage with reenactments of fans gathered in a Brooklyn bar listening to Robinson's debut, and a diverse group of immigrants being sworn in as American citizens.  "More than a campaign, this was a tribute to an American hero and all he stood for," Marques noted.

Smith and team were justifiably proud of their part in honoring Robinson's contributions to baseball and American culture.  But getting the Impact spot right was a tall order, he acknowledged.  To make the film as authentic as possible, Smith said Lee researched the smallest details, from the weather in Brooklyn that historic day to select costumes, and featured the original radio broadcast in the spot.  The individuals in the swearing-in ceremony represent real people who have broken through boundaries in their own fields and communities and look to Jackie as an inspiration.

The final result "represents exactly what Jackie Robinson achieved -- breaking through color boundaries and the integration of people from many walks of life and ethnicities into American society," Smith noted.

Along with the Impact film, the campaign has rolled out a second, shorter spot titled Rise that shows the making of a baseball interspersed with images of Robinson.  On Jackie Robinson Day, the two spots will be shown on big screens in MLB ballparks and both will be cut into shorter versions for TV, digital media and social media, including 60-second and 30-second on down to 6-second and 15-second spots.

By creating multiple versions of the videos, Smith said the team hopes to attract more organic exposure, such as sharing on social media, that can extend the messaging beyond paid media.  "One of the huge focuses at the moment is generating as much earned media as possible -- both overheard, shared and viral content," he explained.  (The campaign's official social media handle is #ThisBudsforJackie.)

To further support the Jackie Robinson Foundation, Budweiser plans to donate 42 cents to the foundation for every can of commemorative "42" beer sold.  The proceeds "will help the Jackie Robinson Foundation in realizing an old dream: to open the Jackie Robinson Museum in New York later this year," Marques said.

Throughout advertising's history, brands have looked to align themselves with popular celebrities and cultural icons, and marketers will surely continue to look for these opportunities.  But when doing so, Smith says he urges brands to proceed with caution and make sure their brand values are in sync with the individual.  Otherwise, he cautioned, you could end up with a campaign that feels inauthentic.  "You have to share some absolutely fundamental beliefs to make it work and deliver that degree of integration and impact," he said.  "If there is any degree of forcing, you shouldn't do it."

With the "Project 42" campaign, Smith said the players found a winning combination.  "In Budweiser, you have a brand that is truly iconic within the U.S. and has always stood with celebrating the extraordinary and the true spirit of what America was founded upon," he noted.  "With Jackie Robinson, he's an absolute example of what's possible, no matter your upbringing or origin, if you persevere and continue to stay true to your beliefs."

Bringing the brands together, he added, "Was a perfectly natural fit."