Budweiser's Intriguing Stunt

Budweiser's plan to offer "barbeque insurance" raises intriguing possibilities for "embedded insurance" and for the use of APIs to build ecosystems.

Budweiser Canada garnered attention in recent days by teasing the possibility that it was entering the insurance market. How would that even work for the brewing company? What kind of insurance? How would Budweiser underwrite it? How would it process claims?

A few days later, Budweiser said it was really just setting up a raffle, with "barbeque insurance" as the prize. If something happens to cancel your barbeque -- even if you messed up and ran out of propane -- you can file a "claim" with Budweiser. The company will then randomly select winners, who will receive as much as $2,500 in "insurance."

But, even once it was unmasked as a publicity stunt, the Budweiser announcement raises intriguing possibilities for "embedded insurance" and for the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) to build whole ecosystems.

I suppose the first takeaway is simply that the insurance industry should be flattered. Lots of companies engage customers with raffles of iPhones or other sleek electronics; here, a major consumer brand is enticing customers with ... insurance. Who says insurance can't be sexy?

The broader point is one I've been making for years now, that the best form of cross-selling known to man is, "Do you want fries with that?" In this case, Budweiser's offer boils down to, "Do you want some insurance with your beer?" Travel insurance already embeds itself into the purchase of airplane tickets, hotel reservations, etc. -- with the website scolding you for putting yourself in danger if you don't pony up that 10% or so on top of the basic price. Warranty offers have long been embedded in product sales, and some other cross-selling possibilities are also obvious -- buy a car, and be offered car insurance; buy a home and be offered homeowners insurance; etc.

And, if beer and insurance go together, then the possibilities for embedding insurance into other products are really just limited by our collective creativity. If Budweiser can offer a sort of insurance against cancellations of barbeques, why couldn't Hallmark or some other company do something similar for family gatherings? Why couldn't a sports team offer "insurance" for season ticket holders by raffling off some free season passes for the following year if the team has a losing record? And so on. (I'm from Pittsburgh, and I considered bragging that I wouldn't need losing-season insurance, because my Steelers have only had one since the leagues merged in 1970, but my Pirates once had 20 straight losing seasons, so....)

APIs make this sort of cross-selling far easier, because they allow for exchanges of data in a clearly defined way between different businesses -- the travel insurer and the airline, the car dealer and the car insurer, etc.

APIs also allow for opportunities well beyond simple cross-selling. Look at Budweiser. To apply for its "barbeque insurance," you have to fill out a form on the company's website and provide some information about yourself, including a way to contact you. (At least that's the theory; after several minutes at the URL provided in the Budweiser announcement, I couldn't even find a reference to insurance, let alone a way to sign up for it. As I write this, the site is just straightforward marketing.) Once Budweiser has a way to contact you, it can continue to try to sell you beer from time to time. But it can also connect into an ecosystem that might sell you even more. You need some chips and dip to go with that beer, of course. How about some hot dogs and hamburger meat, too? Wine? Don't forget the ice. Maybe you don't want to have to run around and get all the supplies at the last minute, so how about if we connect you to a delivery service? Maybe even a caterer?

Once you establish a software interface with another company or set of companies, you can develop any number of relationships. Homeowners insurance could become part of a whole ecosystem involving maintenance, security, warranties on appliances and more. The same with car insurance, with small-business coverage and with most other types of insurance -- none live in a vacuum, even though we in the insurance industry often approach them as though they do.

Figuring out your role in an ecosystem can be tricky. The tendency is to think of yourself as the main player, controlling the relationship with the customer, a la Amazon. But there are actually lots of types of ecosystems and plenty of potential ways to participate, including by plugging into an ecosystem that some other company has already taken the time and energy to organize.

That's a long discussion that I'll save for another day. In the meantime, I hope I've given you a little food for thought as you drink your beer at that barbeque this weekend.



P.S. My Budweiser story:

When I was with the Wall Street Journal in Brussels in the mid-1980s, we ran a front-page story about a fight over trademarks between the U.S. Budweiser and a Czech beer with the same name. The Czech brewery certainly won on precedent: It was founded in 1265. The American version had even plagiarized the Czech slogan: Czech Budweiser was established by a king of Bohemia and had for centuries called itself the "beer of kings," while American Budweiser labeled itself the "king of beers." But the American company was claiming that it, not the Czech brewery, somehow had rights to the name.

I vowed that some day I would have a Budweiser in Prague.

I never made it while living in Brussels, but the idea kept rattling around in my head. So, following a talk I gave in Zurich three years ago, I drove the 425 miles to Prague to have a beer.

It actually took me a bit to find a Budweiser. To my surprise, pubs in Prague only serve one kind of beer, so I couldn't go into any old bar: I had to find one dedicated to Budweiser. But after waiting more than three decades for that beer, I wasn't going to give up easily, and soon enough I found a patio festooned with Budweiser umbrellas. The beer was glorious.

It came in a beautiful mug with "Budweiser" etched into the glass, and I just had to have it. I wasn't going to pocket it, but I had to have it. I had zero idea how to proceed, but I have a friend who manages to get chefs and maitre d's to give him the most remarkable souvenirs, so I texted him and asked for advice. "Ask the waiter if you can buy a mug," he responded. "90% of the time, he'll just give it to you." Sure enough. I left the waiter a $5 tip for a $3 beer, and I have a lovely Budweiser mug on my book case. I'm looking at it as I type this.

Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


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