DESPERATE TIMES

Fussed OverOver the past decade, the consumption of Budweiser has dropped precipitously. Since 2004, per capita consumption of Budweiser has fallen by well over 40% and, even more damning for AB InBev, half of young drinkers (between the ages of 21 and 27) have never even tried the beer. Considering that Budweiser’s market strategy was always to hook young drinkers early and keep ’em for life, this must be immensely troubling for the Brazilian-owned, Belgian-based AB InBev.

While their other brands haven’t fared as poorly (Bud Light consumption has been stagnant for years, but at least it isn’t dropping), the dramatic fall of their flagship brew has shaken InBev’s windows and rattled their walls.

Not surprisingly, craft is to blame. When your competitors make objectively superior products that taste better, smell better, look better and offer infinitely more variety, it’s hard to maintain your lofty perch as the self-proclaimed “King of Beers”.

As Aleheads predicted so many years ago, AB InBev has finally snapped and is lashing out against craft. They are, to no one’s surprise, attempting to pit the “keeping it real” drinkers of Bud against the fussy hipster craft drinkers. Budweiser is trying to brew up a culture war. The problem is that they’re on the wrong side of the battle.

In February, in the midst of a tense, exciting Superbowl, beer drinkers across the country were puzzled by InBev’s “Brewed the Hard Way” ad. If you didn’t see it, here’s the link. If you want a great takedown of the ad, check out Kid Carboy’s write-up from the day after the Superbowl. Since this is the kind of thing Aleheads used to skewer with reckless abandon (you know, back when we used to post things), I figured it was high time I finally took a stab at deconstructing it myself. And after rewatching the commercial, the same disdain I felt upon its initial release was palpable and this post practically wrote itself. Check it out, then come back here for some vitriol.*

*I know we’re five months too late on this, but Bud’s recent “Watermelon Wheat” tweet reminded me that this battle isn’t going away any time soon.

Bud hits all of the notes you’d expect in this insanely expensive commercial spot. First they proclaim themselves “Proudly a macro beer”. There’s nothing wrong with crowing about your big dog status of course, but Budweiser does themselves no favors by trying to change the cultural connotations of the word “macro”. Consumers the world over have learned to be skeptical if not outright hostile towards massive, multi-national conglomerates. Such businesses rarely (if ever) have the best interests of the consumer in mind and most people inherently understand that.

The commercial then launches into its most notorious tagline…”It’s not brewed to be fussed over.” This text is accompanied by an image of a man who represents the platonic ideal of a hipster…scraggly beard, glasses, perfectly sculpted handlebar mustache. His name might as well be William S. Burg. And, of course, he’s sniffing his beer before drinking it.

Everything…and I mean EVERYTHING about this text and image is ludicrously, shamelessly problematic. That one moment of commercial could be deconstructed for days in a marketing class. Bud immediately shoots itself in the foot with the “fussed over” line which wholly implies that THEIR product isn’t worth actually paying attention to. The clear derision hurled at the man smelling his beer further implies that, when it comes to Bud, you really shouldn’t be looking at, smelling or even really tasting the beer. Just crack it open and slam it. That’s all a Budweiser is good for…according to the company that produces it.

Then there’s the way the commercial portrays non-Bud drinkers. The bespectacled, bemustached cretin is clearly meant to be an object of ridicule. As if someone who actually cared about the things he was putting into his body is a joke. “Don’t think about what you’re ingesting!,” the commercial seems to say. “Do you want to be like this loser…smelling something you’re about to eat or drink? Who has time for that bullshit? Let’s pound some Buds and go to a Pitbull concert!”

That moment is when AB InBev truly channeled the old Mac vs. PC commercials. The craft drinker even bears a slight resemblance to PC’s pretentious goof (as played by John Hodgman). Obviously this rubbed craft beer drinkers the wrong way. The stereotype of the hipster, mustachioed craft drinker is more than a bit dated. In fact, did you know that both women AND minorities drink craft beer these days? It’s true!

Then the commercial trots out Bud’s tired old “This is the only beer beechwood aged” trope. As we’ve discussed before at Aleheads, the whole beechwood aging thing is utter horseshit. Beechwood chips add no flavor or complexity to Budweiser. They simply help speed up the clarifying and lagering process so InBev can churn out their product even faster. It would be like McDonald’s boasting about their pre-formed patties or Subway their pre-sliced cheese.

The commercial then returns to the culture war well by noting that Bud is “brewed for drinking, not dissecting”. In this scene, we see three more perfect hipsters…all white guys, of course. Two with glasses and sweaters, one with muttonchops and a flannel. They’re sitting at a table with a flowered vase (flowers are for pussies!) and six different taster glasses of beer. They’re clearly in a super-dorky discussion about the merits of these beers which you can tell by their hunched-over posture, overly demonstrative hand gestures, and obsessive nodding and whispering. Behind them is a food board listing such menu items as “Fried Brussels Sprouts”, “Chicken Liver Mousse” and “Steak Tartar”. Someone in the InBev marketing department obviously did their homework about what craft beer geeks eat. I honestly can’t even wake up in the morning without a cup of coffee and some chicken liver mousse.

These three gentlemen (one’s a ginger, of course), are meant to represent the epitome of craft beer loserdom. Three guys, no women*, passing around tiny glasses of beer and talking about them endlessly. I mean…can you imagine? Going to a brewery with friends and actually talking about the thing made at the brewery? That would be like going to a restaurant and actually discussing the food! So weird! Is there anything lamer than being interested in something? Or discussing that thing with others who share your interest? Look at these fuckwits…engaging in a fun hobby in the company of friends. Enjoy your chicken liver mousse, assholes!

*The craft beer drinkers are ALL white men in this ad. The women are just servers. Nice work, Bud!

“The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer” the commercial than inexplicably claims. Umm…do you realize this statement runs completely counter to the rest of the commercial? You just said Budweiser is not a beer to be fussed over or dissected. You just showed people who CLEARLY like to drink beer and you mocked them! Based on the first half of this commercial, you’ve established that Bud is for people who don’t want to taste or even experience the drinking of their beer. Do you not see the hypocrisy here? What the fuck?

Next we’re told that Budweiser is “brewed the hard way”. Whatever. If the “hard way” involves using cut-rate rice to make the beer as cheap and flavorless as possible, fine. Honestly, it probably is hard churning out perfect carbon copies of a beer so insipid and watery that even an accidental flake of barley floating into the brewhouse would ruin it. Much harder than making an Imperial IPA with 15 different hop varietals or an Imperial Stout aged in bourbon casks for two years. This commercial is so stupid.

Finally, the ad mercifully ends by declaring that Bud drinkers should just let those losers “drink their pumpkin peach ale”. Let’s ignore the fact that such a beer does not exist…or at least it didn’t exist until this abortion of a commercial aired. Afterwards, a number of craft breweries trolled Bud by actually brewing a pumpkin peach ale. I’m sure they were infinitely more palatable than Budweiser.

This final statement is all the more deliciously ridiculous from a brewery that makes Bud Light Straw-Ber-Rita, Mang-O-Rita and Raz-Ber-Rita. They’re mocking a non-existent “Pumpkin Peach Ale” straw man while churning out gallon after gallon of a mango-and-margarita-mix-infused pale adjunct lager? I repeat…what the fuck?

Even more absurd is the fact that AB InBev is desperately trying to crack into the craft beer game while simultaneously mocking it! Their biggest growth brand (Shock Top) is a craft knock-off (what we usually call “crafty” beer)…thanks in part to the way InBev distances themselves from said beer in all of their marketing and packaging. Newbie craft drinkers might not even know Shock Top (a horrific faux-Belgian White brewed to combat Coors’ highly successful Blue Moon) is brewed by InBev. The company also recently bought up Goose Island and Elysian and has huge ownership stakes in Redhook, Widmer and Kona Brewing. InBev is inexplicably bashing craft beer with their left hand while doing EVERYTHING IN THEIR POWER to enter the craft market with their right!

I mean…I get the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach. But I’m a little confused by the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, then try to beat yourself” approach. It seems rather counter-intuitive. In fact… I actually lied earlier about there not being any Pumpkin Peach beers out there. The brewery that Budweiser bought in January (Elysian) actually really DID make a Peach Pumpkin Ale (theirs even had pecans…the horror)! So this commercial from InBev basically bashes the company they literally just bought. Brilliant!

Naturally this ad campaign brought down hellfire from craft beer circles. In the past, I would have said that InBev didn’t give a shit about us fussy dissectors. 15 years ago, it would have been like gnats attacking a bear. But the landscape has changed. Craft just broke 10% in volume share of beer sales in the US and is poised to hit 20% market share very soon. Craft brewers are no longer the upstarts. They are very seriously cutting into Big Beer’s profits. Pissing off the millions upon millions of craft drinkers in the country with commercials like these is just terrible marketing.

Of course, anyone assuming this was just a singular mistake was in for a rude surprise a couple of weeks ago when @Budweiser tweeted out an image of a man with a case of Budweiser slung on his shoulder. The tweet accompanying the image said “Nobody cheers for the guy who brings a watermelon wheat beer.”*

*It’s hard to ignore that the Bud case in the tweet is decorated in red and white stripes and has the Statue of Liberty emblazoned on it. How does a company run by a Brazilian and headquartered in Belgium get away with that kind of all-American packaging? Who do they think they’re fooling?

This one was a direct shot at 21st Amendment Brewing and their popular summer brew, the Hell or High Watermelon Ale (a great name and a pretty tasty and refreshing beer to boot). Apparently InBev didn’t learn their lesson after the massive backlash to their Superbowl ad. The tweets in response to the watermelon wheat dig were almost universally negative. Practically every response was some variation of “I would absolutely cheer for the guy who brought watermelon wheat beer…but I would flay the guy who brought Budweiser and piss on his corpse.” (I’m paraphrasing)

So yeah…InBev decided to double down on the beer culture war with that tweet. But as I said before, that’s a war they are clearly losing. Half of young drinkers refuse to even TRY their product. The growth of craft is more or less unstoppable at this point. Each year, Budweiser’s market share drops and craft’s keeps growing. This desperate, pathetic attempt at portraying craft drinkers as creepy obsessives and Bud drinkers as all-American heroes is just sad. The beer brewed for “people who like to drink beer”? That’s craft, Bud…not you. Your beer, by your OWN admission is for people that don’t want to even think about what they’re pouring into their gaping maws…

Are some craft drinkers fussy and obsessive? Of course! Others just like to grip it and rip it. What sets us apart is that we actually like beer. We like the way it tastes. We like the way it smells. We like the whole culture around brewing and drinking. Craft drinkers represent the entire rough-and-tumble population of beer-drinking America…

We’re the future of American beer, Budweiser. You are its past.

Stay there.

Barley

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9 comments

  1. I’m sensing some hostility.

  2. The funny thing is that I wrote this piece and only then decided to see if anyone else had bashed the Bud ad. My search led me to your Paste article, and after reading it I realized that I had basically just rehashed your points in a decidedly less artful fashion. I debated just spiking this post, but then I remembered that this is a beer blog that no one reads so who gives a shit?

  3. Jack fate · · Reply

    Drinking Bud & eatin’ a micky d ‘s go on without me

  4. I’d love to sit with Dick Cantwell over a few pumpkin peach ales and get the low-down over the whole Elysian sale. He has to regret the way everything turned out. Certainly a cautionary tale to successful craft brewers contemplating their legacy and succession strategy.

    1. You should see if you can snag him for a podcast. His e-mail after quitting was intriguing:

      “Just wanted to let you know that about half an hour ago I resigned from Anheuser-Busch. The tenor of the deal, mainly from the point of view of my former partners and me, was such that I can’t possibly work with them into a future of any duration. My concerns were never even considered as a factor. … From the start it was me against everyone else, with no regrets expressed. Enough about that.”

      “In the past few months AB has treated me with consideration and seriousness, and they’ve presented me some pretty exciting future possibilities, should I be able to see my way clear to working for them. But I can’t. I am a craft brewer, past, present and future, no matter what I end up doing.”

  5. Damn, that is a fantastic breakup. If I’m ever faced with a changing corporate culture, whether I put myself into that position or not, I hope I have the balls to leave on my own terms. Would probably help if I was wildly successful in a growing business sector though. Oh well.

  6. […] never fought local pro-craft legislation like the other two and they don’t engage in the same Alehead-baiting, women-bashing marketing. But I can’t say I’m indifferent to them. I truly dislike their beer […]

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  8. […] their wares. When that failed, the big boys flexed their marketing muscles in an effort to paint an “Us Vs. Them/Slobs Vs. Snobs” dichotomy between real ‘Murican macro drinkers and fussy, hipster Aleheads. And when that […]

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