Budweiser Was All For Craft Beers Before It Turned Against Them
It’s very fitting that this year’s Super Bowl game was the day before Groundhog Day, because the Budweiser beer “Brewed the Hard Way” commercial that debuted in it was in as much of a time freeze as the classic movie’s characters. As a February 1 Advertising Age report describes the spot, it “takes shots” at them gol-derned, newfangled “fruity craft beers” and “brings back [an] old tagline” in the process.
Harking back to the good old days of yore before 1988, when one out of every four beers consumed in the US was a Bud and sales by volume were more than triple today’s, the commercial packs an amazing number of superannuated beer-advertising cliches into 60 seconds. It starts off by showing the factory. Then it shows the raw ingredients. Then it shows the factory again. Then it shows the Clydesdale horses. Then it cuts to a quick drinking scene in a bar, then to a package shot. Then more factory and package shots. Then to beechwood trees – standing in the forest, then being cut, then to pieces of beechwood. This is followed by a pour shot, which is followed by bar shots and more factory shots, still more bar and pour shots, old Clydesdale footage, a montage of old Budweiser ads, and – you guessed it, more package and pour shots. All of which leads up to three seconds of the new tagline, “This Bud’s for You” – dug up from the 1970s, when it was created to combat “Miller Time.”
Looks like some folks at A-B InBev must be thinking that if their commercials live in the past, a new generation of beer drinkers will somehow magically start drinking in the past. But for Budweiser vp Brian Perkins, everything old is new again. “To a 21-to-27-year-old consumer today, they will have never seen ‘This Bud’s For You’ in communication,” he told Ad Age, “So it’s a new way to talk to them.” Oh.
If there’s anyone Budweiser needs to talk to, it’s Millennials. Among beer drinkers 21-27 years old, a majority (56 percent) have never even tried Budweiser once. But, as Conor Friedersdorff writes in The Atlantic, “watching Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercials on Sunday, I saw an advertisement far more likely to appeal to my grandfather or father than a typical person of my generation (I’m 35), and even less likely to appeal to Millennials…For a guy like my grandfather, who has grown used to the taste of Bud over decades, there’s a familiar appeal to the brand, which he prefers. For a 21-year-old walking into a bar for the first time and confronting a dozen beers on tap, the idea that even one in twelve will actively prefer Bud based on taste is fantastical.”
“Does anybody under the age of 40 care when Budweiser reminds us that it’s the only beer aged with Beechwood,” Jordan Weissman at Slate chimes in. “Does anybody know what Beechwood is or tastes like? Anyone?”
While the images on the screen are blasts from the past, the words superimposed on them comprise a rant against an up-to-date competitor – the entire category of craft beers – with phrases like, “Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over…It’s brewed for drinking. Not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like drinking beer. To drink beer brewed the hard way. Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We’ll be brewing us some golden suds. This is the famous Budweiser beer. This bud’s for you.” This copy represents two things: hypocrisy and desperation.
Hypocrisy, because like John Kerry and the Iraq War, Budweiser was for craft beers before it was against them. Since late 2012, Budweiser has been marketing pseudo-craft beers of its own, formulated by its regional brewmasters with higher alcohol content than regular Bud. In time for the 2013 Super Bowl, they introduced an upscale specialty beer called Black Crown. They also got into the “pumpkin peach ale” business with their line of strawberry- and other fruit-flavored Bud Light Ritas. Having failed to join the microbrews, Budweiser decided to try and beat them.
And desperation, because microbrews as a whole are as big a competitive threat to Budweiser as Miller or Coors. In 2013, the last full year for which Beer Marketer’s Insights numbers are available, Budweiser shipped 16 million barrels of beer, while craft beers shipped 16.1 million.
Of course, Perkins denies his “Macro Beer” is going after microbrewers. “This is not an attack on craft beer,” he told Ad Age, “this is not an attack on competition.” Too bad Budweiser’s not as good at turning out beer and commercials as they are at turning out denial.