Inside Bud Light's 'Victory Fridges' for the Cleveland Browns: Unlocking a PR Sensation

A 'perfect metaphor' for the team's pain, and release

A year ago, Bud Light's catchphrase "Dilly Dilly" broke through into pop culture on a level not seen in advertising in some time. The A-B InBev brand enjoyed that attention all throughout the NFL season—and is now proving it wasn't a fluke. 

The first big branded pop-culture success of the new NFL season has also come from Bud Light, in the form of its "Victory Fridges" for the Cleveland Browns—padlocked fridges installed in Cleveland bars that the brand promised to unlock as soon as the Browns recorded a win, after going 0-16 last year. 

The Browns ended their drought in week three, beating the Jets 21-17 in a thrilling game. The resulting unlocking of the Victory Fridges proved an enormous PR coup for Bud Light—it was a story that was reported almost as much as the win itself. 

Muse reached out to Bud Light to hear the whole story behind the Victory Fridges. It turns out the stunt was the direct evolution of "Dilly Dilly," and represents Bud Light's move into engaging specific cities. Miles Ritenour, communications manager at Bud Light, tells us more below. 

Muse: Tell me about the initial eureka moment for the Victory Fridges idea. 
Miles Ritenour: This idea was born out of some of the recent success we had with our "Philly Philly" program last year, where we offered free beer to Philadelphia if the 50-1 Eagles won the Super Bowl. We have 28 NFL team sponsorships, so we tasked our agency partners with coming up with another idea where we connect with another city and its fan base in the same way. Our PR agency 3PM brought the Browns Victory Fridge concept, and it took off from there.

We really liked the idea of activating with the Browns because we had just come off celebrating a winner in the Eagles. The Browns hadn't won a game in over 600 days, and yet their fans have supported them through it all. We saw fans standing out in the bitter cold holding "Dilly Dilly" signs last winter despite an 0-16 season. We wanted to reward a fan base that sticks by their team no matter what.  

We felt really good about the idea because of its simplicity and authenticity. The Browns' record was already a major topic of conversation going into the season, and no brand had really seized the opportunity. The Victory Fridge did just that with a simple execution—fridges that unlocked when the Browns got their first win. It was easy to understand, built on a cultural insight, gave the people a role, and our product was at the center of it all. 

We had a feeling it was going to make news, but I don't think we could have predicted it would be this big.

What are the challenges—philosophical, logistical—of getting the brand and the team on the same page for something like this?
The biggest challenge was time. The idea was presented well before the NFL season, but it wasn't until late in the summer that we got the official green light internally. While the idea may have been simple, executing it was a little more complex. In order to pull this off, we needed the entire system to do it. Our brand team, our regional marketing team, our agency partners, our local wholesaler House of LaRose and the Browns—all had a hand in making this a success.

It took a lot of meetings and internal alignment among all the stakeholders, but the beauty of this project was how we were able to rally so many people behind it. We all believed in it, and we all did what was necessary to make it work. AB is a huge company, and we were proud of how everyone came together on this one in a short period of time. The results of this program are because of the work of all those people.

This idea of fridges that unlock—why is that idea such a fun, compelling one for consumers?
It goes back to simplicity. It's easy for anyone to grasp—a win unlocked a fridge with celebratory Bud Lights in it. The fridge with beers locked up with chains was sort of the perfect metaphor for what Browns fans were feeling. 

A win had eluded them for so long and yet every week they go in thinking the streak was going to break. The beer in some ways was the manifestation of that elusive win—a literal taste of victory.

Can you describe the visual branding of the fridges, as the well as the line "When the Browns win, Cleveland wins"?
We loved the idea of a fridge with a chain and a lock as the key visual. It's universal. You don't need to be a football fan or a sports fan or even speak the language to understand what's going on. That helped our story and assets move across channels. 

We knew the first win would cause absolute pandemonium in Cleveland, but it would also be a moment that brings the whole city together. That's what Bud Light's all about, bringing people together over a beer, hence "When the Browns win, Cleveland wins." 

The bars had to buy the fridges, right?    
Yes, we worked with the local wholesaler House of LaRose in Cleveland to help facilitate that. We had a limited number of fridges available, so we worked with them to identify popular bars where Browns gather to watch games every week. Every on-premise account in Browns territory had a chance to purchase one of the Victory Fridges, but they were snatched up quickly by a lot of bars in the area. It got to a point after we launched the fridges, we had bars calling both Bud Light and House of LaRose asking us to produce more of them.
 
Would the campaign have generated more value if it had continued for further weeks? How did you feel about it ending in Week 3?
While we may have generated more media value if the streak continued, our mission from day one has been to support the Browns and their fans and to open the fridges. It was never about the losing streak. Bud Light was all about making the celebration moment as epic as possible, and we achieved that.  

The game itself was epic too. You couldn't write a better script. A nationally televised game. The Browns go down early. Starter gets hurt. In comes the No. 1 draft pick who leads the team to 21 straight points and the comeback win. Streak ended. Fridges opened. It was perfect.

Have you put a number on how much media coverage this got overall, and the value of that coverage?
Anecdotally, we can share that the Browns' win yielded the highest single-day volume of social conversation for Bud Light this year, exceeding Super Bowl Sunday. While there are multiple ways to measure the value of our press coverage, we did see speculation on Twitter from ESPN's Darren Rovell that the night of the victory alone was worth nearly $7 million, according to one third-party source. 

What we've tried to do over the past year with Bud Light is make the brand part of culture. We did that with "Dilly Dilly," "Philly Philly," the Masters "Dilly Dilly" ban and more. The Browns Victory Fridges are another program in that same model. We need to do more than just advertise to people these days—we need to be part of their everyday conversations. The Victory Fridges did that.

What happens to the fridges now?
The fridges are still at their accounts and stocked with fresh Bud Lights. They aren't locked anymore, but they remain a major attraction and point of pride for the fans. Some bars are running promotions with them, and we are still seeing people taking pictures with the fridges days after the win. It's hard to talk about Cleveland's first win without mentioning Bud Light, and that's pretty awesome.

What don't we know about this campaign?
It was great to see former players like Joe Thomas and Troy Aikman have so much fun with the campaign during the broadcast of the game, but when Baker Mayfield asked if they'd opened the Bud Light fridges during his live postgame interview, that was a shining moment for us. "Dilly Dilly!"

I was actually on the ground in Cleveland for the win, and it was amazing to see the reaction in person. I'm from Pittsburgh, and even as a Steelers fan it was incredible to see the elation of Browns fans. They spilled out into the streets and cheered at the bars as if they had won the Super Bowl. The delight on their faces when they got their celebratory Bud Lights is something I won't forget. 

The true value of this campaign lies in the in-market talk value that you just can't quantify. When our team was on the ground in Cleveland, everyone from TSA agents to taxi drivers to servers in restaurants to hotel desk clerks asked if we were in town for the game. When we answered yes, they replied, "We're opening those fridges tonight!" When people are talking about it on the streets, you know you've done something pretty cool.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of Clio Awards.