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What do Budweiser and Jennifer Lopez have in common? Both have benefited from the creativity of Monica Rustgi MBA ’13.

Rustgi is Budweiser’s vice president of marketing, setting the company’s brand positioning and communications strategy. Her team is also responsible for Budweiser’s sales performance, bringing national campaigns to life at the regional and store level.

But Rustgi got her start as a musician, signing a deal with Grammy-winning producer Cory Rooney while in college at New York University. She recorded an album under the name Monica Rush, titled The Simple Life—a blend of electro-funk and pop—and wrote songs for artists including Pitbull and J-Lo.

“I was dreaming of becoming a household name, not because I wanted the fame, but because I wanted my music to reach people,” she says. Despite some early successes, she sensed her music career wasn’t headed in the direction she wanted—and realized how much she enjoyed the business side of her artistic pursuits. “It was a startup. I was selling myself as a brand,” she says, but “I was done with being the brand.” She decided business school could help her shift into advertising and marketing. She chose MIT because she saw in its students “people who wanted to change the world,” she says. “They weren’t driven by money but by purpose, and for me, that was it.”

To be a good creative, you need a very strong sense of empathy,

With her Sloan degree, Rustgi moved through several brand manager and brand director roles at Anheuser-Busch InBev, where she took the VP position in September 2018. The same month, she landed on Ad Age’s 40 Under 40 roster.

Rustgi says moving into the world of beer has created opportunities she didn’t have as a songwriter and performer. “Budweiser is a part of American culture,” she says. “I now have the resources and the megaphone through the brand to reach and impact people the way I always wanted to.”

In marketing as in music, she says, authenticity matters: “A lot of brands and maybe even people in the world aren’t clear on who they are. People can sense that.” So she focuses on stories that show Budweiser’s corporate values. She led the team that delivered 2018’s “Stand by You” Super Bowl campaign about the company’s practice of donating water in the wake of natural disasters. This year’s spot, “Wind Never Felt Better,” highlighted Budweiser’s use of renewable energy.

Rustgi also aims to create new “Super Bowl–scale moments” around themes meaningful to consumers—for example, launching a campaign celebrating fans of the National Women’s Soccer League (“We Won’t Stop Watching”) and a Father’s Day spot on the importance of stepdads. “To be a good creative, you need a very strong sense of empathy,” she says.


This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of MIT News magazine, published by MIT Technology Review

Photo(top): NYC Cinema Studios.

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