Editor’s Note: John Garland is a contributing editor for The Growler Magazine. The views expressed are his own.
It’s only fitting that this disastrous NFL season (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, concussions, deflate-gate) would end on the most bone-headed play call in Super Bowl history. But craft beer drinkers across America were already enraged, choking on their peach-pumpkin ales, upon seeing this macro-call-to-arms from Budweiser (above). The ad is being called hypocritical, tone deaf, and embarrassing.
But let me offer a different, though likely unpopular, opinion: the ad was perfect.
Put yourself in Budweiser’s shoes—their market share is rapidly sinking in the wake of craft beer, and not only are young people not drinking the Red Label, nearly half of them of have never even tasted it. If you’re AB-InBev, what would you do? They can’t keep flaunting their Clydesdales and act like the King of Beers when the kingdom is clearly in revolt.
Brian Perkins, Budweiser’s Vice President of Marketing, calls the ad “A bold, proud statement of what Budweiser is, rather than an attack on competition. It’s an unpretentious beer for those who know beer.” This is some brilliant, nigh Johnny Cochran-level obfuscation. Of course it’s an attack and, just like Perkins’ explanation, a subtle one. It isn’t a proud statement of what it is, rather, what it’s not.
If you can’t act like there’s no competition, you must exploit your competitors’ weaknesses. Budweiser can’t compete on substance, but they can most certainly compete in perception. And if craft beer has an Achilles heel, it’s pretense. Even devoted craft beer drinkers can’t stand the pedantic, molecule-sniffers among us who won’t drink a stout without telling you intricate details about Carafa III.
Not that knowledge of craft is a bad thing. But it becomes a bad thing when it’s regarded as a shibboleth for entry into the cool kids club. Budweiser isn’t attacking the product, it’s attacking the mindset that there’s one correct way to enjoy beer. This ad is targeted at people who don’t like being told what to like. The irony, of course, is crushing.
Budweiser knows full well they won’t convert craft drinkers back to the bland side, but there are plenty of young people who haven’t chosen a side yet. Beer companies are famous for lifestyle advertising and this is the reverse tactic. This ad was targeted at the 21-year-old in Wichita, asking him “Are you some kind of flannel-decked, indoor-scarf-wearing, mustachioed Brooklynite whose perception of the world is so detached that you can’t just sit down and enjoy a beer without validation from your peers that you’re drinking the right thing?”
I think, in light of Budweiser’s problems, this ad was perfect. It’s perfect because it angered us. It’s perfect because with the overwhelming trend towards more thoughtful consumption, they drew a line in the sand. They know they can’t play in the field of quality, so how else can they engender long-term brand loyalty? By admitting that Budweiser is not for everyone, and that not caring about your beer is not a character flaw.
Happily for us craft drinkers, though, they’ve phrased the rules of the game in our favor. Do you care at all about what you drink? If not, drink a Budweiser. The more commercials that say Budweiser: For those who don’t give a shit, that can only be good news for good beer.
Will their strategy pay off? All we know now is that kid from Nationwide will never grow up to drink a Budweiser, BECAUSE HE’S DEAD.