Last week, AB InBev announced the official launch of its in-house agency, draftLine, which it has built up internally from a team of three to over 50. On Friday, Adweek spoke with AB InBev vice president, consumer connections and draftLine lead Joao Chueiri about the development of draftLine and what we can expect from the shop in the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Adweek: What led to the development of draftLine?
Joao Chueiri: In-house agencies have been a rising trend, and to us, draftLine is a new milestone because we have the scale and a lot of consumer data to help us take [the approach] to the next level. There was a lot of concern for us to be more agile, to use the abundance of insights we have about our consumers to create meaningful content in a more local and a more personalized way. We [also saw it as] an opportunity to complement the work we do with our agencies. DraftLine was not designed to replace agencies—it was intended to complement agencies.
What was the timeline around the creation of draftLine?
We started in May of last year, working with Michelob Ultra, and [we] wanted to learn from the model. [Back then,] it was maybe a handful of people, and now we have more than 50 on staff working for all the brands in the portfolio. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve done it in very strategically.
To us, it was very important that this was not a forced decision upon the brands. We wanted the brands to work with draftLine because they wanted to, not because they had to. Like any business, we wanted to make sure this proposal would add value to the brands and to the business versus just being a mandate. That was one of the most important principles, because it speaks a lot about why we built this agency, which was to add value, not to cut costs.
What precisely will draftLine be working on going forward? How has that scope expanded since its inception, and how might it continue to grow in the future?
DraftLine is a combination of multiple things. More than three years ago, we created an internal programmatic media buying unit. Three years ago, we started internal social media and data and analytics teams to help us primarily with social listening, but also in understanding how our social campaigns were performing.
The piece that we didn’t have was [related to creativity]. This is what we started to add last year, and when we closed the circle, bringing creativity into what we had, is when we said, “Now this is a full-service agency called draftLine.”
So the type of work that they’ve been providing has been growing since three years ago. It started with programmatic, then social listening and analytics, then we started consumer interactions in terms of becoming the brand voice for our brands on social. Today we’re doing … all the digital type of creative that’s needed for all the different formats of social, email marketing, radio, media buying and all the different parts of analytics [and] design.
We do everything an agency does, but we don’t do everything for every brand. We do [work] based on the brand’s needs and how the brand wants to work with us. The small brands usually work with us because they don’t have the budgets to go to big agencies. For them, it’s awesome to have everything internally. For the big brands, we do different things, because they all have agencies. Then we complement it with whatever the brand needs.
Would you be able to elaborate on some of the smaller brands for which you provide all-encompassing solutions? With a brand like [Patagonia, an Argentina-based beer brand AB InBev recently scaled up in the U.S.], it makes no sense to engage with an external agency since it’s truly a pilot. We wanted to know if it would work before putting money and resources behind it. So we created everything in-house, from the logo to the packaging to the communication strategy. We manage social media … everything is done in-house.
For each brand, it depends on the type of work we do. For Natural Light and Busch, we do a lot of their social content.
In terms of some of those creative capabilities, how were those being handled before draftLine?
If you think about Patagonia, it’s an innovation brand. In the past, we would look for a local agency in the market [where] we’re piloting the brand and hire a local agency to do that part. But those are agencies that we usually don’t have a relationship with. Based on the work, we would go and find a partner to do that. So [now] that means that we don’t have to find a partner, because we already have that in-house.
You mentioned social content for Natural Light and Busch. Was that something that was handled externally before with a social media agency or taken on a project basis?
It depends. We have not replaced any of our agencies because of draftLine, and no agency has been let go because of it. But there are agencies [for which] we’ve reviewed the type of work which they are providing for us because we want our work to be complementary and not duplicative. What we’ve learned is that once these agencies understand what you’re trying to do, it becomes very easy, because it allows them to focus on the things that they’re really good at. … As a team, we become stronger.
For example, not every agency wants to take one social action and do 25 different iterations based on consumer feedback online—because it takes a lot of time, they don’t want to put their most senior creative behind that and it’s not a good business model. But to us, it is. We can have people getting an asset produced by a big agency, and we can then have 25 different iterations of that asset and blow it up and track and learn, and if it’s not working, we can easily do more work on it.