Cannes Lions 2021: AB InBev’s Richard Oppy on the brewer’s award-winning work

AB InBev’s 'Contract for change' for Michelob Ultra, scooped up multiple Gold Lions and a Grand Prix for PR

Jun 24, 2021 04:06:00 AM | Article | Alison Weissbrot Share - Share to Facebook

AB InBev's Richard Oppy

It’s only midweek, but Anheuser-Busch InBev is already making a strong showing at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year. 

The beer and spirits giant won a Grand Prix in PR for 'Contract for change', a campaign for Michelob Ultra by FCB New York/FCB Chicago and Weber Shandwick. The campaign aims to remove barriers for US farmers to adopt organic practices by guaranteeing a buyer within three years of the transition. 'Contract for change' also won a Gold Lion in the direct marketing category. 

AB InBev also nabbed a Gold Lion in media for 'Courtside', which brought fans virtually back to NBA arenas during the pandemic. 

Richard Oppy, VP of global brands at AB InBev, said the brewer looks at five “C’s” when evaluating potential award-winning work: It looks for work that is compelling, clear, consistent, cuts through and has cultural voltage. “Does it spark a conversation?” he said.

Oppy, who oversees marketing for Budweiser, Stella and Michelob Ultra globally, caught up with Campaign US about AB InBev’s winning work.  

Campaign: AB InBev has had a great showing at Cannes so far. How do you decide what to submit?

Oppy: "Some work we just thought was beautiful craft. Others cut through and went viral. And others we thought were creative ways to give back to the community. 

"We have internal awards with similar categories to Cannes. Everyone submits from around the world, across our brands, and we have external judges. The ones that get shortlisted, we look at putting into Cannes. It’s a great way to foster creativity internally."

How do you work with your agencies to get to award-winning ideas? 

"We give the agency the freedom of a tight brief, and then let them be super creative in how they solve that problem. That's the challenge for creativity. It's not about being creative for the sake of winning awards. It's about being creative to solve real consumer tensions and reinforce what your brand stands for."

What work is really standing out to you this year?

"One that caught my eye, maybe because I'm Australian, was from KFC Australia. People didn't think KFC had high-quality food, so they looked at getting recognised as a Michelin star restaurant. They went to great lengths to travel across the world to prove their case. 

"They got a lot of buzz and saw a huge spike in the perception of the quality of their food. It was a great idea and example of [finding] a great creative solution to a problem. We’re trying to do more things [like that] as opposed to relying on 30-second spots and hero images."

What's your perspective on elevating creativity as a business driver?

"Great ideas can come from anywhere, so when you have one, nurture it and don’t compete with it. Greenhouse and blossom it so it can get bigger and better, whether it came from your PR, media or experiential agency. Treat your partners like partners, not like kids. Parents tell kids what to do, but partners inspire and give space to be creative and take risks. 

"We've been brought up to trust our gut and intuition, but often our gut is to reject ideas that are uncomfortable. Ideas that win awards make you feel uncomfortable. So we have to rewire our gut. With digital, you can test your gut and see how it's resonating with your audience. If it is, fuel it with media and go big.

"Too often we just accept mediocre creativity because we're under time pressure. In this new world, you have to be brave, take risks and prepare for consequences. If you want the attention, you need tension."

What’s the importance of awards shows like Cannes today?

"We do want to win awards and be recognised for great creative. Having an ambition to be marketer or advertiser of the year at Cannes helps foster a culture internally and with our agencies that pushes us to create great work. But it's not about ego and thumping yourself on the chest. It's about being clear on your ambition for the kind of work you want to create. 

"Awards are also the best way to attract the best talent. They're looking to see who is winning awards at Cannes. Agencies also want to work with clients that are winning awards and looking for creative solutions to real-life problems."

What are some big trends at Cannes this year?

"One big theme is action over words. No longer can we just talk the talk. People are looking for brands to step up and take action. 

"One of the best examples was when Budweiser pulled out of the Super Bowl for the first time in 37 years and put that money toward promoting vaccine awareness. We knew that our way out of Covid, when people can get back to music, bars and enjoying a Bud, was to get vaccinated. So rather than telling people to get vaccinated, we took a stand."

Are you looking forward to getting back to Cannes in person?

"I much prefer to be face-to-face. I love the energy of being at Cannes, the networking and hearing people present. It's not the same on Zoom. It will do its job, but I can't wait to get back. Cannes is an event we look forward to all year, and it's one the team really misses.

"But the awards are just as valuable, and you can even argue, more valuable. We were forced off the back of Covid to be more creative than ever. If there's a silver lining, Covid put marketing in the cockpit of the airplane in most organisations."

This interview has been edited for clarity. This article first appeared on


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