One of my favorite commercials from this year’s Super Bowl was Budweiser’s “Brewed the Hard Way.” This was not Budweiser’s feel-good ad with the lost puppy and protective Clydesdales. This was Budweiser’s unapologetically proud “macro beer” ad, complete with a thunderous soundtrack, craft beer stereotypes, and all-caps declarations like, “Brewed for drinking not dissecting.”
I liked the commercial for its entertainment value (e.g. mocking tasting sessions of pumpkin peach session ales), but more importantly for its strong brand statement. Far too often, businesses get “stuck in the middle,” if I may borrow Michael Porter’s description of what happens when businesses do not make a choice about what they will do (or not do). The same applies to brands that do not make a choice about what they will (or will not) stand for.
Budweiser’s “Brewed the Hard Way” ad is far from being stuck in the middle, as it proclaims Budweiser “proudly a macro beer” and states that those who drink Budweiser “are people who like to drink beer.” The problem is that most of the benefits that Budweiser highlights in the commercial are what I would consider category benefits (i.e. for all macro beer brands), not brand benefits specific to Budweiser. So as much as I like its boldness and entertainment value, the ad fails: it doesn’t make the case for why consumers should choose Budweiser over other macro beers. And it fails in an even more fundamental way as well: it takes aim at the wrong competitor.
For context, the past five years have been tough for all U.S. beer, as beer volumes have declined while wine and spirits volumes have increased. And these beer declines have occurred when the size of the U.S. legal drinking age population has increased, meaning that people are choosing to drink less beer. Budweiser in particular has suffered severe volume losses: a 27% drop in volumes between 2008 and 2013 or -6% CAGR, according to Euromonitor.
While craft beer, the target of the “Brewed the Hard Way” attack, may be responsible for some of Budweiser’s declines, craft beer volumes in reality are insignificant compared with those of Budweiser. For example, Samuel Adams signifies only 7% of Budweiser’s total volume. More of Budweiser’s sales have been poached by other macro beer brands, like Coors Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Yuengling – three franchises that have been growing at very healthy rates amidst beer’s overall declines. Budweiser’s salvo upon craft brewers was entertaining, but ultimately in vain.
This brings us back to my point that Budweiser needs to focus more on “Why Budweiser?” – especially when speaking to its core macro beer consumers. Budweiser’s recent follow-up to “Brewed the Hard Way” is “Blind Taste Test,” in which Brooklyn hipsters are served Budweiser unknowingly and recorded with hidden cameras. While the commercial appears to be highlighting the benefits of Budweiser (e.g. “aged in Beechwood, crisp, refreshing, fast finish”), you can’t help but feel that it’s disingenuous and that Budweiser is enjoying a laugh at the duped hipsters’ expense.
My advice to Budweiser is to focus real hard on keeping its core macro beer consumers and on “Why Budweiser?” instead of other macro brews. While mocking craft beer and hipsters can be amusing and can engender some loyalty from current Budweiser fans who share those views, Budweiser needs to give consumers a good, compelling reason to put down their Coors Light or PBR – and I hope it’s more than just an “American tradition.” Because not all traditions are worth keeping.