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Monday, February 02, 2015

Bud Finds Its Voice?

This is easily one of the most interesting beer ads I've ever seen:


"Budweiser, proudly a macro beer.  It's not brewed to be fussed over." (Shot of a contemptible hipster with old-timey stache.)  A bit later, "It's brewed for drinking, not dissecting."  (More contemptible snobs.)  "Let them drink their pumpkin peach ale."  There's a bunch of other familiar text in there, but when the minute-long add winds up to its booming conclusion with the tag "this Bud's for you," it carries a different resonance.  This Bud, the brewing giant says with a wink, is for you, not one of those poncey hipsters.

It's not even subtext--it's text.  Budweiser VP Brian Perkins told Ad Age that "occasionally we do have a little bit of fun with some of the overwrought pretentiousness that exists in some small corners of the beer landscape that is around beer snobbery. That is the antithesis of what Budweiser is all about."

This is not a beer ad targeted toward you and me.  It's an ad targeted at the huge slice of people who are casual, promiscuous drinkers who might go for a Bud, a Blue Moon or a Sierra Nevada Pale depending on their mood.  Mass market lagers have been taking a beating among that cohort, and Bud's ad is bid to reel them back in.  Those drinkers are attracted to new things said to be tasty, and the ad is an attempt to remind them that Anheuser-Busch believes their beer is plenty full of cred, thanks.  It's a fascinating ad because it's unexpectedly pointed and effective.

More thoughts:

1.  The big companies can no longer ignore craft brewing (and I use that term advisedly).  It was a contemptuous acknowledgement, but the shots at dissecting pumpkin peach ales are still an acknowledgement. 

2.  It definitely tweaked a lot of people, but they're wrong to call it "defensive."  That's echo-chamber thinking.  Many craft fans have internalized the narrative that Bud is both evil and low-grade.  But Bud never accepted those terms--nor have the millions who continue to drink the beer.  To them, this looks like the appropriate retort to a bunch of hipper-than-thou snobs.  It wasn't targeted at the beer geek, whom Bud has already lost.  What really looks defensive are the responses from the geek community who are miffed that Bud is using exactly the same tone (in-your-face, irreverent, dismissive of the competition) that craft has been using for thirty years against Bud.

3.  This approach won't stop Bud's decline.  The truth is, we are a vast, diverse country, and the idea that any single flavor could so totally dominate the market as mass market lagers did for decades, is impossible to entertain in the 21st century.  What is Bud's natural market--16 million barrels (today's figure), 10 million, 5 million?  Hard to say, but no ad campaign is going to reverse the diversification of the market in beer. 

4.  It might well slow Bud's decline, though.  Throughout the decades from the 1960s through the 1980s, big beer companies had honed their advertising strategies to compete against each other over a pretty indistinguishable commodity (fizzy pale lagers).  They didn't advertise beer--they advertised frogs and dogs and lots and lots of bikini-clad women.  It became self-parody, and made it very easy for competitors to paint these products as industrial crap fit only for gullible rubes. That's all fine if the product is a commodity, but once craft brewers came along, it changed the calculus.  If those fizzy light lagers are going to hold onto some share of the market, they're going to have to make a pitch for the beer.  This ad suggests that Bud may have gotten the memo.

5.  "Craft beer" (again, using that term advisedly) had better watch it's own image.  The fact that The New Yorker and Budweiser are both mocking craft beer is not so good for craft beer.  Hipsters are probably the single most hated group in America (so much so that I don't think I've ever heard anyone call himself one), so this association is not good.  Craft beer could take a lesson from the bigs on this point: beer is the common man's drink.  The more craft beer is known as a white, upper-class, urban, metrosexual drink, the more it will be ripe for mocking. 

No grand conclusions here--it's just all fascinating to see.  We do live in interesting times, don't we?

23 comments:

The Beer Nut said...

Nicely put!

I think the ad is an example of Ghandi Stage 2.

Jeff Alworth said...

Nice. But I think it's actually stage 3. The laughing stopped about ten years ago. Before that, they might have looked at the 15-barrel kits scattered around the country and snorted. The mocking in this ad represents, I think, the fighting stage of the battle.

The Beer Nut said...

I guess. The high-profile acquisitions too.

Caroline Newman said...

Hard to rationalize why they made fun of a beer brewed by inBev's most recent acquisition, though...

Alan said...

It's a great ad. "Craft beer" - if it means anything - now carries heavy connotations of humourlessness along with pretense and overpricing. Deserves a good mocking to keep it in line if not honest.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Because Alan mentioned it, and because you couched the use of the term with care I thought Id' point out the commercial does not use the term "craft beer."

Dan Hughes said...

Something that deserves pointing out, the media has a huge love/hate relationship with "hipsters" right now....Ducati Scrambler comes to mind. But when you actually go to a craft beer bar, or a group motorcycle ride, you can plainly see they are the minority in the crowd. They just happen to be the vocal minority. Additionally, it seems the "hipsters" enjoy macro lagers (PBR anyone) as much as any average joe. So it seems this is by far more about casting an image to associate with something we love, in order to stir the pot....

Gary Gillman said...

I'd have no issue with it if A-B hadn't made the purchases it has in the small brewery sector. But given it has done so, there seems a disconnect here. I found it strange.

Gary

Pivní Filosof said...

Well said.

I did like the ad. Didn't find it offensive the least (in fact, I'd go as far as to say it does make a couple of good points, points that I've seen being made fun of. But I'm not a Craft Beer Drinker, so I don't take it too seriously.

Alan said...

Ah, sorry. It must be about hipsters drinking snifters of cola. Thanks for clearing that up.

Anonymous said...

If anything the commercial shouldn't upset anyone that enjoys well crafted beer, it affirms what many people have claimed, Budweiser could care less about how their beer tastes/smells ("not to be dissected") or innovation ("pumpkin beer"). Their real message is they want you hold your nose and just get drunk ("meant for drinking").

In terms of "making fun" of "hipsters" or quality products that are "dissected" I can't help but cite a few current successes to show how their advertisement is a failure: just last week Apple announced over a 100 billion dollars in hand, and they are often viewed as a "hipster fan boy" company, in addition to being expensive. Or we could look at the perceived pretentiousness of a company like Whole Foods, yet they always appear full of customers. More closely to home, in the last few years wine has been doing well, but it has often been associated with "high society". Finally, "craft beer" in the last few years has seen massive sales, whereas the Macro beers have been on the decline.

I realize a lot of people look at the price first, but from what I am seeing, more people are headed over to quality over price. Sorry Budweiser, another failure, yet I realize more breweries will just keep selling out and sending their profit overseas. That will be the real downfall of small breweries, when more profit is centralized into fewer hands/over seas and the average customer can only afford a PBR...

Pivní Filosof said...

Gary,

We shouldn't forget that the ad is not for the company, but for a product and, as Jeff rightly points, it speaks to the consumers of said product. Besides, I think most people are intelligent enough not to feel in any way offended by what could be called as satire.

Gary Gillman said...

Pivni (or Jeff), is it not possible though that the ad was a case of the left hand not realizing what the right hand was doing as the old expression goes? I have to wonder about that.

Gary

JazPhx said...

I was discussing this ad with a colleague of mine and decided this could hurt sales of Budweiser. He drinks a range of beers but really enjoys Porters. If nothing else is really available, he use to go for Budweiser. No more. This ad could hurt sales. A dedicated Bud drinker is going to mutter a "Hell ya!", at the end of the ad. Others who enjoy a Pumpkin Peach Ale may just write off Budweiser and/or AB-InBev for mocking them.

In 1988, 80 million barrels of Budweiser was sold for the number 1 slot. Now, it is 16 million barrels of Budweiser sold and number 3. One out of every 3 beers sold in the US in 1988 was a Budweiser. Budweiser is on a steady decline and the entire Craft beer segment now out sells Bud. The Wall Street Journal reported that 44% of drinkers between 21 and 27 have never tried Budweiser.

This ad is preaching to the choir and will not drive new sales. Maybe future hipsters will drop PBR for Bud. Ha!

Jeff Alworth said...

Just to clear up one thing, the loss of Bud has mostly come at the hands of Bud Light, not craft. I fear this is another case of echo-chamber thinking. It is true that each year, the decline in beer drinking and the gains by craft brewing shave a percent or three off Bud and Bud Light's sales, but they are still enormous. Collectively, AB sells 54 million barrels of the Bud brands--Bud, 16m bbls, and Bud light 38m bbls.

So as you think about who their market is and who is buying beer, be careful when you think about the "massive sales" of craft beer.

Anonymous said...

The reality of it is that the vast majority of Bud drinkers are a parody themselves. Mostly college bro pounding douchebags, overweight football white trash, hicks and fat women. sorry, but it's true, and it's just as stupid as the hipster stache guys. As a "craft" beer drinker, I can honestly say I LIKE the flavors, I like the choices, I LIKE the high alcohol content, and I LIKE the hot women into the craft beer scene. I don't like women who chug bud till they puke and scream and fight like idiots. The end.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least we can all agree that pumpkin beers are a terrible idea.

Anonymous said...

And on top of all that, it's a hamfisted direct ripoff of a 20 year old Miller Genuine Draft ad campaign crafted by Wieden-Kennedy that featured the tagline, "Time for a good old Macro Brew".

Steve Body said...

I have a hard time taking all the lofty discussion of what AB's motives and goals are seriously. The presumption that most craft beer drinkers are "hipsters" has been beaten to death and never contained a grain of truth, to begin with. Whatever people mean by the term "hipster", these days, seems pretty squishy. It seems to mean anyone who displays any emotion other than an ironic detachment for any thing or practice. Apparently, passionate engagement is now passe and I really did NOT get that memo. A couple of years back, "hipsters" were drinking Pabst. Have they all; now graduated to craft beer? Funny that I, a guy who visits breweries about five or six times more often than the average person, sees hardly any skinny jeans or Elton John glasses and I've yet to find a brewpub with kale on the menu. I don't find hipsters at breweries. I see normal, everyday people, white collar and blue, who enjoy beer and don't feel the need to give it a philosophical context.

There also seems to be a qualifier that's required now whenever the term "craft beer" is used, a practice which strikes me as the sort of pretense and lemming-like conformity as what's being attributed to the hipsters. The culture is centered on the fucking CRAFT BEER movement and that term is every bit as valid now as it ever was. The author has an few points but the intellectual posturing it's all couched in makes it hard for me to take seriously. The ad was nothing more than a continuation of AB's long-standing strategy of either using money to eliminate their competition or, failing any feasible way of doing that, to provoke and scorn and sow doubts about those facts, people, and phenomena that stand to affect their sales. It's just "bitter beer face" and the old "American Made" baloney they used to fend off the imports. If people grant this new sloganeering even the credibility enough to keep the discussion going, they play right into AB's grubby hands.

Daniel Eichelberger said...

Hardly the first shot in this war though. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ev5OZS75qaY

timmay! said...

Lots of name calling here from the craft beer lovers. Why so sensitive? It's pretty good ad. It won't convince me to drink Bud, but I thought it was kind of funny.

priceit said...

I did not see the ad as an attack on craft, but more as a message to the current Bud drinker that is OK to drink Bud now and in the future. There is a cultural pressure out there now that drinking Bud means you drink inferior beer and therefore are an inferior person. The ad was meant to boost the ego of the Bud consumer and really little more

timmay! said...

Yep, they are trying to shore up their base.

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