Inside Whatever, USA: Bud Light’s Party Town as ‘Content Factory’

Millennials, Snoop Dogg help brand spread the word

Headshot of Kristina Monllos

On California's Catalina Island Saturday afternoon, a well-known performer took a quick bike ride through town, ostensibly to deliver hot dogs. But Snoop Dogg didn't actually hand out franks; instead, he made a beeline to a stage and began the most entertaining and engaging performance of Bud Light's Whatever, USA festival.

That joke—Snoop Dogg as proprietor of Snoop's Dogs—might be an easy one, but it was also an instantly sharable moment that Bud Light's guests posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media. And it was exactly the kind of exposure Bud Light hoped to gain with its second Whatever, USA event.

This was festival as a marketing lab, with several agencies working to create content for the Anheuser-Busch brand. Not only was Bud Light's creative shop BBDO on hand to make six spots for a new campaign, but several other agencies were on site. Mosaic led the experiential aspect of Whatever, USA; and Contend, Vayner Media and Weber Shandwick powered the social-media war room. 

"Of course we want to make sure that the 1,000 people who come here have an amazing time," said Alex Lambrecht, vp of Bud Light. "But ultimately we want those consumers to broadcast to the world how amazing it was, because we want to reach more than the 1,000 people that are here."

With Whatever, USA, Bud Light is using insights about millennials—that they value experience more than material possessions and that they fear missing out on events—to help broadcast the weekend's events to a wider audience. With contest-winning attendees posting on social media platforms about the weekend—which gives them "social currency," said Lambrecht—the brand attracts more consumers who want to be part of Bud Light's experiences.

For its inaugural Whatever, USA in Crested Butte, Colo., last year, Bud Light had over 200,000 consumers vying for 1,000 slots. And of the 37,000 pieces of content created during that weekend just 50 of them were from Bud Light itself. This year 1.7 million people entered to win admissions, with only 500 selected. (Each winner got to bring a friend, for 1,000 total partygoers.) All those entries represented "more than 5 percent of the total millennial population in this country, and that means we're doing something meaningful and relevant for millennials," said Lambrecht. 

This  weekend's party was held in Catalina's town of Avalon and took over just a few blocks of its main strip. At each entrance, winners and locals—2,000 of Catalina's 3,800 residents were given wristbands to enter—saw placards notifying them that by entering the area they were consenting to their "voice, name and/or likeness being used without compensation, in films, video, photography and other recordings for exploitation in any and all media." 

"The content strategy is new this year," said Khaleed Juma, creative director at Mosaic. "We shot a series of TV commercials inside Whatever, USA that aren't even for Whatever, USA. It's a really new model that other brands are afraid to play with." 

That series of television commercials is for Bud Light's summer program, called "Summer Bucket List." The series is about getting consumers to share their hopes and plans for the summer, with the possibility of Bud Light helping to make those happen. The "Summer Bucket List" program will kick off at the X Games in Austin next week

"Everyone who is coming here knows that we're going to be capturing content, that we're going to be spreading out content to the world," said Lambrecht, who dubbed the event a "content factory." "But everyone is totally fine with it, because they're having an amazing time." 

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.