The story starts like many in Vietnam: foreigner lands a job in one of the major cities, he or she packs up and moves there, partner ‘trails’. As this tale progresses, though, its similarity to the familiar one ends.
True, Xavier Codron wasn’t flying solo when he came to Saigon in 1994, but it didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself. After doing six months of recon for a textile company, he segued into the wine and spirits industry, helping a multinational establish roots in Indochina.
Fast-forward to 2008. The Gannon Group strikes a deal with Anheuser-Busch to distribute Budweiser in Vietnam. The experienced Codron is called on to take the reins. The rest is history.
In the two years since, Budweiser has gone from little-known to the beer of choice for an increasing number of affluent Vietnamese. A large portion of the credit goes to Codron, whose creative mind, boundless enthusiasm and tireless work ethic are as evident as Bud’s proliferation.
Busy schedule and all, Codron found time recently to talk about this latest venture, what some of the challenges have been, how important the beautiful Bud Angels are to the brand’s success, and more …
What has been the biggest challenge in converting Vietnamese into Bud drinkers?
Xavier Codron: Definitely awareness. The population is young – something like 50% are below 30 years old. And throughout their growing up, they had never heard of Budweiser. It wasn’t really here until the middle of 2008.
Persistence and consistence in our marketing efforts, with signage and promos and TV exposure, have generated awareness and credentials for the brand. And reactions have changed noticeably. At first, everyone was more or less curious, yet also suspicious. They were trying to understand what the brand was all about. Who are you? What is it? That sort of thing. But now we’re seeing less of that and more of a genuine familiarity with the brand.
What kind of feedback do you get from consumers about the product? Compare when you started versus now.
Codron: Well, there’s no more suspicion, but there’s still a lot of curiosity and excitement because there’s that understanding now that this beer is world-renowned. When we first said we were sponsoring Manchester United, they didn’t believe us because they didn’t know the brand.
Also, they’ve come to realise that it’s easy to drink with Vietnamese food, and they love that aspect as well.
What was the highlight of 2009 for you as the managing director of Budweiser Vietnam?
Codron: The Bud 6v6 International Cup, an international football tournament that Vietnam participated in for the first time in the event’s 11-year history. Going to Old Trafford in Manchester, UK, and being there during the finals. The stadium wasn’t all that full but the excitement was crazy.
There was a TV spot every day and people were really following the team from abroad. And when they got to the finals, it was amazing. Every country that had been eliminated was there, and most — probably 75% — were behind Vietnam, pulling for them to win. They played so well and really did Vietnam proud. TV was there. Journalists were there. Representatives of the Vietnam Football Federation were there. It was very well organised. When they finished second, it was elected one of the top 10 football events of the year in Vietnam.
How key have the Bud Angels girls been to your success?
Codron: The Bud Angels programme is one of the cornerstones of our brand activity. It’s a demanding job that deserves a lot of respect. The Bud Angels are much more than mere promoters – they’re long-term employees, and we treat them as such. We try to give them the right training. And we care about them and their families. We feel strongly that if the brand cares about the employee, the employee will care about the brand and therefore represent it well. And if they represent it well, then other opportunities within the company present themselves. We want them to develop and we want them to work their way up.
What did the Bud 6v6 International Cup do for the brand?
Codron: A lot. But mainly it showed that we care about the community. We took a full team of Vietnamese amateurs to England to play football and to learn more about the game and Manchester United, a team comprising their idols. That gave us cred. It showed that Budweiser was a legit, big-name brand with serious capabilities. It demonstrated that Bud really is the King of Beers.
This year, we’ll be sending about 30 Vietnamese to the World Cup in South Africa, including nine to play in the 6v6 World Finals. But maybe the coolest opportunity is for two lucky consumers who will get all-expenses paid trips to watch a pair of Round-of-16 games and present the ‘Man of the Match’ award to the best player of one of those games. We are the only market sending two.
How’s 2010 looking for you?
Codron: It started amazingly, with our special 473ml aluminium bottles and our 710ml can that we brought in for Tet. It will be a special year because it’s a World Cup year. Budweiser has been the official beer of the event since 1994. The Bud 6v6 Cup is also bigger and greater, with Nha Trang and Danang entering the competition along with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
We also have an amazing team that’s deeply attached to the brand and its values. Our partnership with the trade is built on mutual respect and passion for Budweiser. This passion and respect will drive our success for 2010.
Scott Resch is a journalist whose one-on-one interviews with the likes of footballer David Beckham and entrepreneur Peter de Savary have appeared in some of North America’s leading publications.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019
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