Nice as it was to have a full dose of Sunday football yesterday after a summer of uncertainty, the inevitable specter of the 10th anniversary of 9-11 hung over the proceedings. The NFL conducted their remembrance ceremonies with a deft touch indicative of their standing as one of the greatest entertainment companies the world has ever seen: coordinated video introductions broadcast at every stadium across the country, stirring renditions of Taps from Shanksville PA, Arlington National Cemetary, and Hoboken NJ across the Hudson from Ground Zero, and field-sized flags born aloft by the players and coaches of our cherished teams. Considering the tricky waters in which they were treading, there was very little done by the NFL’s promotional team that could be considered insensitive or exploitative of the fact that the start of their season (after coming within inches of a lockout this summer) coincided with the anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in American history. After all, the NFL is now our true national pastime, a singularly American institution, and as such will be irrevocably culturally linked with signature events of our time such as September 11th.
NFL advertisers were likewise placed in the difficult position of creating pieces of marketing propaganda that enhanced their brand without offending anyone whose lives were forever changed on that day. State Farm chose to go against the expectantly somber grain with a troupe of school children serenading NYFD Engine 205 with an upbeat rendition of Jay-Z’s New York State of Mind. But it wouldn’t be football without beer commercials, specifically those produced for the Budweiser brand by its parent corporation AB-InBev. Despite the Alehead-pleasing headlines coming late last week that Bud is one of “8 Beers Americans No Longer Drink” AB still sold 18 MILLION BARRELS of the stuff in 2010, and are looking for anything they can do to revert the the 30 percent decrease in sales the brand has suffered since 2006. Thus, airing multiple ads during NFL weekends is just par for the course. But how to frame this sales pitch? Certainly the standard bikini bimbo hi-jinks and talking animals were inappropriate for such a historic day. What A-B properties could they feature that were beyond reproach?
That’s right, it was time to bring out the Clydesdales.
One of the most iconic figures in American advertising, the image of the powerful horse team pulling Budweiser beer to a St. Louis market harkens back to a simpler time, when we knew where the products we bought came from. I admit to hating Budweiser beer, loathing its parent company In-Bev, but unabashedly loving the Clydesdales. They’re just cool. And I loathe them even more for using the horses yesterday, as they so often do, to shield their brand from the sad reality the Budweiser is no longer an American company.
So what happens in this commercial? Very little: the Clydedales are saddled up and depart for parts unknown, riding through a pastoral American northeast that only exists on postcards and parts of Vermont, across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, arriving at some grassy area (in NJ?) overlooking the Twin Towerless- NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty. The horses execute that little bow towards where the towers used to stand… It’s beautiful animals, a historic day, stirring music, and great shots of New York iconography. What’s not to like?
Well, it’s not new. The commercial originally aired only once, during the Super Bowl in ’02, later stating that they would not run it again because they didn’t want to profit from the legacy of 9-11. Last year’s dreadful sales figures apparently changed the thinking behind that moral stance. During the original air date, the company was controlled by the Busch dynasty in St. Louis; not so anymore.
Despite their attempt to continue the legacy of Bud as The Great American Lager, anyone who know the first thing about the purchase of Anheuser Busch by In-Bev knows it has done no good for the beer, the community that made it the world’s largest beer company, or the country with which they seek to indelibly link their products with the best marketing money can buy… Bud’s sales are flagging because of the meteoric rise of thousands of small American craft beer companies that pump money into cities and small towns of America, instead of feeding the insatiable growth of a corporation that uses the purchase of A-B to avoid paying US federal taxes, reward executives for cutting US jobs, and does everything within its power to stamp out the current craft beer movement.
Don at the great beer blog Beer and Whiskey Brothers seemed to like the commercial, noting that “[A-B]acknowledged the events of that day and managed to give us a minute of respect and peace, and produced an ad that neither offended nor angered” which I suppose is true enough; the ad was probably the safest thing they could possibly air. Yet the commercial’s whole aim was to convey a sense that “Budweiser is authentically American, and we feel your pain” when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Frankly, I’d rather A-B had crafted a response to the Miller Lite catfight girls, or maybe exhume Spuds MacKenzie for a cameo. Then at least I know they don’t expect me to believe that there is anything authentically American about Budweiser left clinging to the desiccated skeleton of what was this country’s biggest brewing behemoth.
Dear AB-In-Bev: you brew an inferior product and engage in reprehensible business practices. Now you’ve ruined the Clydedales for me while attempting to profit from our greatest tragedy. I look forward to observing your continued inexorable decline, with a delicious local craft beer in hand. Cheers!