Why Bud Light made a documentary about women DJs

Who: Bud Light and director Stacey Lee, with creative agency Anomaly, and production house Popp Rok (now Fela).

What: Underplayed, a feature documentary about women in electronic music, executive produced by Bud Light.

When & Where: The documentary screened at TIFF last fall, but will debut on Bell’s Crave service, as well as Amazon Prime, Amazon Music and Apple, on International Women’s Day. Bud Light is also donating $1 for each share of the trailer to Women in Music Canada.

Why a documentary? The idea for the documentary came from the brand’s House Party Tour, created by Anomaly. The Tour saw top musicians performing at house parties across Canada.

At one event, they were talking with rapper French Montana’s DJ, DJ Duffey, about how she’s treated differently as a woman in the music industry, and how women don’t get the same opportunities as men. “She just opened up to us,” said Natalie Lucas, Bud Light Canada’s director of marketing. “Our creative director Neil Blewett was there from Anomaly, and it got the wheels turning with the team about what we could do.”

They had similar conversations on the Tour’s other stops. The lived experiences were all different, said Lucas, “but they all had the same root issue, which was that the opportunities were just not there [for women], and we wanted to understand why.”

Lucas and her team believed they needed to do something, but there were too many important issues—from mental health, to motherhood, to intersectionality and BIPOC issues—for it to be short-form content. Their big idea was to produce a feature documentary.

How did they get approval? It actually wasn’t hard, said Lucas. The brand is anchored in what she called “the party occasion,” and music is deeply connected to that; it’s why the House Party Tour was created. But they brand has also long been focused on inclusion, embedding it in all of its marketing and communications. The documentary is designed to connect those two brand pillars.

Underplayed is born directly out of Bud Light’s brand purpose, and brings that purpose into action,” said Anomaly’s president Candace Borland. “It’s walking the talk.”

“The best parties are the ones where you feel like you can be included and you can be yourself,” said Lucas. But more than that, it was almost hypocritical for the brand to talk about inclusion and ignore what it learned about the challenges faced by women DJs. “If we were showing up at a festival where that inclusion doesn’t exist, then as a brand we have a due diligence to start educating people about that,” she said.

That was more than enough to convince everyone they needed to make the documentary, she said. “We never faced obstacles in terms of financing.”

The finished product: Filmed over the summer festival season at locations around the world, the documentary features a diverse group of DJs talking about gender, ethnicity, and sexual equality. Artists include Juno Award-winning artist REZZ, singer, producer, songwriter and DJ Alison Wonderland, and award-winning sister duo Nervo. Along with director Stacey Lee, the film crew was also almost entirely women.

And how does it help the brand? There will be no direct line between the documentary and beer sales. The success metrics are views of the film, and the brand is barely present. “I think in total, in a 90-minute movie, it’s maybe 30 seconds where you might see Bud Light in the distance, because they were filming at our festivals,” said Lucas.

“Doing good is good for business,” added Borland. “Our goal was always to spark meaningful conversations with our target, and drive deep meaning for the brand. The documentary format let us do this in a way that would entertain and educate vs interrupt consumers.”

“Its going to be hard to attribute brand lift to this,” added Lucas. “We track brand lift all the time so we might see a correlation down the line, but this is one of those things that is going to be going on for a long time.” The documentary will be up for a while, and Bud Light will make other efforts to improve the situation for women in the electronic music business.

The senior leadership team all believe “this isn’t about selling beer,” but about staying true to some of the ideas and beliefs at the core of the Bud Light brand. “This is about allyship,” said Lucas. “This is about telling a story and putting our money where our mouth is.”

David Brown