When the NFL 2011 season kicks off this Thursday night, football fans will be tuning in to watch the last two defending Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers, battle it out at Lambeau Field.

But, if you’re a savvy marketer, you may also want to tune in to see what’s happening with the league’s new beer sponsor: Bud Light.

National Football League (NFL) shield
Image via Wikipedia

At an estimated cost of $50 million a year for six years, the coveted “official and exclusive” beer sponsorship gives Anheuser-Busch InBev several significant benefits. As noted in a press release, Anheuser-Busch can use the NFL shield and other logos in Bud Light advertising and retail displays. Plus, it can use select NFL footage in promotions.

I’m curious to see how Anheuser-Busch combines all these elements to deliver what I’m anticipating will be an intriguing case study in multi-platform, integrated campaign management.

AdAge says Anheuser-Busch has several ideas in the works, ranging from TV spots and innovative store displays to new packaging and a 60-city Bud Light Fan Camp designed to challenge consumers to compete in traditional and non-traditional football skill tests (the winners earn a trip to the Pro Bowl).

I’m sure we’ll see Anheuser-Busch leverage social media platforms in some innovative ways, as well. Already, it appears that Anheuser-Busch prefers to use social media (rather than its website) to drive targets towards Bud Light. Throughout this past year, the company has run contests or give-a-ways through Facebook, and television and print ads contain the Facebook page URL.

For example, check out the “Best Round Ever,” a contest run exclusively through Bud Light’s Facebook page earlier this year.  The promotion offered a $10 million grand prize to the fan (21 years of age or older) who could predict the first round of the NFL Draft perfectly.  Official rules and entry for the Best Round Ever sweepstakes were available at www.facebook.com/BudLight.

Does this mean Anheuser-Busch has benched the www.budlight.comwebsite? Perhaps, at least to some extent. To me, it’s clear that the company has evolved its understanding of customer engagement and now is beefing up efforts to interact with consumers, rather than simply push its messaging. We’re seeing again and again that a static B2C homepage is much less compelling than the dynamic characteristics of social media.

In addition, Anheuser-Busch is ratcheting up segmentation and customized messaging even more. For instance, the Denver Broncos and Bud Light have combined for Bronco-specific contests and content on Facebook. Plus, BeerNews.org reports that we’ll be seeing beer cans sold within each team’s market printed with that team’s logo.

Today’s consumers are clamoring for this kind of “personalized” interaction. They want brands to evolve the customer relationship across the entire buying process. The keys for Anheuser-Busch will be to: 1) keep the campaign integrated and seamless across all these diverse channels; 2) monitor progress/response and adapt accordingly. Meeting those challenges will help establish brand trust and loyalty while also creating momentum and enhancing amplification.

Are you ready for kick-off? I am. It’s going to be great to watch the NFL – and its sponsors – this season.