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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Beer Flavors Are Not That Subtle

There's a new ad by Anheuser-Busch floating through cyberspace that attempts to slyly suggest that Budweiser, served blind, would be accepted by drinkers even in enclaves as upscale and hipstery as Brooklyn:

In order to accept this facsimile of reality, you must believe a few things that are logically problematic:
  1. Anheuser-Busch is showing you an accurate reflection of what happened in that pub, not a heavily-edited version.  (Assuming, and some won't, that you think these are patrons and not actors in the first place.)
  2. Telling people you are serving them a "special beer" will allow them to appreciate Budweiser with what Buddhists call "beginner's mind" and give it a chance to impress on its own merits.
  3. People offered Budweiser blind would be shocked and amazed to learn what it was.
The most unbelievable thing, though, is the subtext Bud expects us to accept. The ad is structured to suggest that these are sophisticated drinkers who would normally be ordering Dogfish Head, Sixpoint, or Brooklyn Brewery's beers, and that merely recontectualizing Bud is enough to put it in their camp.  Absurd.  Yes, it's true that blind tasters have mistaken cheap plonk for good wine; people have even mistaken white wine for red wine.  Anyone who has done a blind tasting has come to terms with their own sensory frailties.  But those frailties are exposed when we are offered relatively subtle differences. Budweiser is not subtly different than an IPA or even a pale ale. It's not like trying to pick out cheap wine from expensive; it's like distinguishing chocolate ice cream from vanilla.

What? It's a Bud? I'm shocked!

Although it was excoriated by good-beer fans, I thought Bud's Super Bowl ad was a successful bit of counter-programming directly squarely at the people who were still accessible to Anheuser-Busch.  This ad will convince no one. People looking for an excuse to drink the beer they enjoy will not find it in the reactions of the Brooklynites in this ad. (Brooklyn, and maybe Portland and San Francisco, are punchlines for people who drink Bud, not cultural guides.)  It obviously won't convince people who have already discovered the delights of ales and more robust lagers.  It's an ad with no constituency and it pretty much insults everyone who watches it.


  1. It was interesting to me that the bartender said things like "138 year old recipe" and "aged on beech-wood", and yet the patrons still seemed to be shocked that the beer was bud. I am pretty sure that most people hear "aged on beech-wood", their mind goes immediately to Budweiser. Most beer-geeks would anyway.

  2. I passed the Pepsi challenge when I was 15... and I'm pretty sure hidden cameras don't move like they're hand-held. Must have been people with "Hidden Camera" t-shirts wandering around the incredibly roomy (for NYC) space with iPhones. Wholly ignorable.

  3. I would love to see this experiment done in a real bar setting and see what people think. If the result were the same it would prove one thing, that many so called 'beer geeks' wouldn't know their arses from their elbows,

  4. I find it hard to believe that there is anyone out there at all who couldn't tell the difference between an IPA and a commercially brewed lager like Budweiser. Its comparing apples with oranges.

  5. I guess Bud isn't the horse piss the beer snobs say it is.

  6. Penn and Teller got people to wax rhapsodic about tap water when it was served by a "water sommelier." People are easily influenced by social factors and (most people) are socialized to agree rather than disagree. Very easy to lead people down a garden path. This is the very basis of sales. This ad is agitprop, not much more needs to be said about it.

    (I am pretty sure most beer geeks can be led down the garden path with just about any silly gimmick beer as well, I might add. As can "foodies," etc.)

  7. So what is the narrative for Budweiser?

    Something meant for drinking and not obsessing over. Let the hipsters keep their pumpkin peach ale.


    Brooklyn hipsters love Budweiser. So they can obsess over it.

    I think it may show that AB-InBev doesn't know how to stop the shrinking sales of Budweiser. The message is muddled and out of focus.

    This ad and the Super Bowl ad are both garbage. The craft beer drinker who would occasion a Budweiser was alienated by the Super Bowl ad. The people who drink craft beer would laugh at this one.

    Watch the Super Bowl ad and this one right after the other. What is the message?

  8. they probably thought they were drinking PBR, in which case Bud wouldn't taste so bad.