South by Southwest

This Budweiser SXSW beer tech is for you

Budweiser area at the SXSW event in Austin, Texas.
Source: Budweiser

Getting food and drinks at the stadium during a game is part of the experience, even though waiting in long lines is an unpleasant task. But what if you could skip the line and pour the beer yourself?

Budweiser and Bud Light have a pilot test making that a reality. DraftServ is a self-service machine where consumers pour themselves a beer, using a pre-loaded card as payment. South by Southwest Interactive Festival attendees this week are being invited to try out the product at the "Budweiser Beer Garage," a pop-up venue that hosted some of the beer brands' latest technological innovations as well as a mini-experience of its flagship St.Louis brewery through virtual reality.

"DraftServ increases the purchase cycle for us because the consumers don't have the barrier of going to the bar and waiting in line and having that transaction," said Tina Wung, director of digital strategy and innovation at Anheuser-Busch. "They can just do it themselves."

"Not only do we have consumers able to get beer faster, but if we stack up all the DraftServ's a high traffic location in a stadium then that gives us the additional branding, awareness, and it also stops people," she continued. "Maybe they weren't thinking about getting a beer, but now they can have it."

Elitism, or something else? Millennials and the war on Big Beer

The SXSW installation is a mini-version of the actual Budweiser Beer Garage, the nickname for the Anheuser-Busch InBev's Digital Center of Excellence in Palo Alto, Calif. There, a small team of five comes up with inventive ways to combine technology to get people to drink more beer.

"The Budweiser Beer Garage here at SXSW is really a representation of all the innovation we've been doing at Anheuser-Busch and in general, and through the different booths and experiences you can see the actual examples of consumer pilots and technology we brought in-house," Wung said.

The futuristic concepts are meant to serve all consumers, but with a special focus towards drinking-age millennials. Much has been written about Budweiser's demise among the demographic, which prefers craft beer. Anheuser-Busch data from 2014 shows that 44 percent of 21 to 27-year-old beer drinkers haven't even tasted Budweiser.

"Leveraging digital innovation is definitely an effective way to help millennialize or make relevant our brand again," Wung said. "When consumers are experiencing a brand in a new fresh way being presented to them in channels they consume or through behaviors that they actually do then, yeah, I do think it allows them to take a second look at us."

Out of beer? Bud Light's smart fridge will tell you

For example, the ThruVu Cooler is your standard supermarket refrigerator with a twist. The door is real-time digital billboard that allows companies like Budweiser to displace custom messages for shoppers as they pass by.

However, the machine doesn't just flash ads at people. Wung explained that Budweiser is working on coupling the ThruVu Cooler with other technology such as facial recognition software and environmental sensors to figure out the temperature. So, it's not just having a fridge flash an ad at you — it's a highly personalized digital poster that may have your social media handles or know that you just walked down the chips aisle.

There's also the Bud Light Bud-E Fridge, a Wi-Fi enabled beer refrigerator that cools your beer to the right temperature, lets you know when it's ready to drink and keeps tabs of how many beers you have left. When you're running low, it notifies you so you can order a delivery via the Saucey app and restock your fridge — without leaving your couch. Right now, it's only available in California and just for Bud Light, but there are plans to roll it out across all Anheuser-Busch brands.

"Our job is to focus on bringing the emerging technology and emerging innovation to the company," Wung said.