Budweiser threw the first big punch with what The Atlantic called “The Super Bowl’s Riskiest Ad.” You probably saw it, but here’s the copy (and the video):
Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. It’s brewed for a crisp, smooth finish. This is the only beer Beechwood aged since 1876. There’s only one Budweiser. 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.
Reaction was swift. Craft beer drinkers blew up in anger and snark on Twitter. Media cherry-picked tweets to maintain the narrative. Jim Vorel wrote thoughtful analysis about AB’s hypocrisy. Carla Jean Lauter (The Beer Babe) wrote an excellent point-by-point analysis of the spot. Dick Cantwell, co-founder of Elysian (recently acquired by AB InBev), was annoyed. It was spoofed almost immediately in a counter-ad. And even Bud’s marketing VP, Brian Perkins, said that he “meant no offense”.
From a Promotion-P marketing perspective, I think the ad was hugely effective. Instead of taking heed of MillerCoors CEO Tom Long‘s 2012 call-to-action for the industry to build “Brand Beer”, Budweiser took a shot at the very thing that is keeping brand beer in the running against wine and spirits, i.e. the taste- and brand-conscious attitude that, at times, puts off the silent majority of beer drinkers who like macro beers. The result was a celebration of a populist appeal that got exactly the reaction from craft beer lovers that the ad was mocking. Strategically, that’s one hell of a rope-a-dope.
The only shock is that it has taken this long for macros publicly challenge craft beer. Budweiser’s declining market share is well-documented, and Perkins has been on record saying that they want to go after 21-27 year old consumers with a new strategy. That demographic is rejecting macro beers at a rate much higher than other generations of consumers, and Bud is going for the long game that comes with early exposure. It’s giving up on the consumers who have driven craft beer demand in the hopes that younger drinkers will become brand loyal.
Maybe this ad will get craft breweries to realize what the macros have known all along — that building brand relationships with a wide range of consumers creates a hell of a lot of goodwill that can be leveraged into messages just like this one. Even if the Brewers Association hits its stated goal of craft beer making up 20% of market share by 2020, that means that the macros are still controlling 80% of the market. Combine this with macros’ craft beer brand acquisitions and you have a recipe for dominance in the channels craft breweries need to survive and grow. Unless craft breweries want to be left fighting over local bar tap handles and growler sales, they must figure out a way to pitch a bigger tent and welcome the folks who just want to enjoy a beer with their friends. If not, there’s a serious risk of losing the culture and variety that has driven nearly a decade of double-digit craft growth, effectively teeing up the macros to swoop in and win the war.
UPDATE: 1:47PM on 2/3/2014
Really solid analysis from Beervana that hits similar notes. With a read here.