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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bud (err, "America?") Loses Its Voice?

Sometimes my powers of observation are, well, what's the opposite of incisive? Let's go with comically misguided. Just yesterday I wrote: "AB InBev and MillerCoors are a part of giant international conglomerates, and this fact is well-known among customers. (They used to feature heavily patriotic ads, but have had to back off them for more anodyne spots.)" So what big announcement do we read today?
The company has kept the same can you already know, but when you look closely, you’ll realize that it has swapped out its own name, "Budweiser," for "America." That’s right, Budweiser has renamed its beer America for the summer. "We thought nothing was more iconic than Budweiser and nothing was more iconic than America," says Tosh Hall, creative director at the can’s branding firm JKR.

(That article on Fast Company is a piece of work, and if you're looking for a satisfying hate-read this afternoon, give it a look. Sample sentence: "So Budweiser is going to potentially ingenious, potentially absurd branding extremes.")

Since I have already proved myself to be a fraudulent reader of multinational beer company thinking, I figure this is an ideal time to offer sweeping theories and predictions. I mean, no one's still reading this, right? 

Let's start with the obvious: Budweiser is not an American brand. Problem. The question is: can Bud (the brand) reassociate itself with America despite its Belgo-Brazilian parentage? Or put another way, will actual Americans play along? Going back to the 70s through the 90s, when Bud ascended to become the dominant national brand, it played the patriotism card brilliantly. It created a portfolio of different ads directed at different audiences (nostalgic oldsters, sporties, party bros, blacks and Latinos) that all said "America" a different way. It was a marvel to behold. 

But the brand faces entirely different challenges now. It's not competing against other domestic mass market lagers. It's not competing against other national brands. And it's not competing in an environment in which "beer" has a single meaning. Attempting to brazen out this fraud in 1976 would have been one thing. But doing it in the era of craft, when the two most important values are authenticity and localness? That's a much more hostile battlefield. ABI is practically begging customers to deface their labels with sharpies reading "Brazil."

It also contradicts the thrust of their recent proud-to-be-a-macro/not-backing-down ads. Those have gotten nothing but derisive catcalls from Team Craft, but I think they're brilliant. They're designed to seize back credibility--and authenticity--by owning who and what they are. They basically say, "we're large and in charge, mother[expletive deleted]." And they work because it's true. The "America" campaign, by contrast, is the opposite. It's slick marketing (not quite in the category of Sally's Rule, but close) premised on a lie. The "proud" ads give Bud drinkers ammo to support the brand proudly, in the face of craft. The America ads treat those same customers as chumps, cynically assuming they'll buy beer from a foreign-owned company based on nothing more than cheap patriotism. 

ABI has also thrown a hanging fastball over the center of the plate for Team Craft to send long. "Nothing says America like a multinational corporation based in Leuven!"

I have no idea whether it will work or not. If I had been one of the guys from St. Louis sitting in the board room when this was green-lighted, though, I would have said "no [expletive delete] way." It's a deeply cynical campaign and seems like a great way to damage the brand long term.

5 comments:

Mike Kallenberger said...

In Julie McIntosh's book "Dethroning the King" she says that at their 2005 distributor convention August Busch IV “kick-start[ed] the troops into a patriotic fervor” and “whipped the group into a frenzy” with his declaration that commercials from arch-rival Miller mocking Budweiser were “actually desecrating America.” Then she quotes marketing exec Bob Lachky: “That’s when [August III] started to turn on us, the marketing guys, saying ‘Nobody can talk to us that way! Attack!” American beer or not, that's a complete failure of perspective.

David Chamberlain said...

What does that even mean, "nothing is more iconic than America"?

bza said...

You can't hang a fastball, you hang a breaking ball.

Jeff Alworth said...

"You can't hang a fastball, you hang a breaking ball."

I love hive mind, in all its pedantic splendor. That sentence was the on I actually spent the longest on, trying to determine which use would be more expressive. Of course, in less than an hour, someone had singled it out for criticism.

(I honestly do love it. I'm a better writer knowing that you'll call me on any error of fact or judgment.)

David: I know, right?

THOMAS CIZAUSKAS said...

As usual, Jeff, you're spot-on. ABIB's "brewed the hard way" ads have been hilarious, smart, and effective. In response, a lot of 'craft' beer showed a thin skin, sputtering furiously. But this marketing move by ABIB is so crass and tone-deaf, that I can only see negatives for the company. Of course, those same negatives are the same I saw and see in a certain presidential candidate; and so far, I've been as wrong about his demise as a batter whiffing at a nasty slider.

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