December 8, 2004
What in the heck is up with Budweiser?
Something weird is going on over at Anheuser-Busch. It struck me this morning as I was sitting across from one of the Budweiser “Fresh Beer Tastes Better” posters currently plastering every single New York City subway car.
This campaign, launched last fall, has a curious logic behind it based on Anheuser-Busch’s own success (the company’s current market share is around 50%). It goes like this: beer tastes better if consumed less than 35 days after brewing – which is how long Bud generally sits on your retailer’s shelf. Other beers (such as, say, Miller) can spend up to twice as long in the store. Therefore, one should buy and consume Bud, both because it is fresher than other beers, and because by clearing the shelf you ensure a continuous, fresh supply of new beer. Tricky.
But then there was the King of Beers' bizarre “Unleash the Dawgs” campaign earlier this year responding to Miller’s “President of Beers” ads. Using third-grade tactics, Bud “unleashed the dawgs” by allegedly having distributors slap stickers on Miller Lite products saying “Queen of Carbs” and "Owned by South African Breweries" and running ads with similar messages. The campaign was pulled when Miller sued. [Both campaigns are fully documented here]
Simultaneously, Budweiser undermined their own position by anxiously reassuring carb-counting consumers that “all light beers are low in carbs – choose on taste.”
And now – now, there’s B-to-the-E™, or B(e) for short.
Just what is B(e)? Why, it’s a beer-based product infused with caffeine, guarana and ginseng, a direct response to the popularity of energy drinks like Red Bull (and an embarassing attempt to use youth language). If you’re looking for something lighter, Anheuser-Busch has also added Bacardi Silver Low Carb Green Apple to its Bacardi Silver family of brands. A pretty bold move for a company that just spent a tidy sum calling their competitor girly.
I think two things happened here. First, the Bud loyalists are getting older, and Anheuser-Busch began to envision a bleak future of dilettantes who jump from product to product, caring only about fads like carbs and caffeine. Then someone at Anheuser-Busch noticed that Miller’s global net profits more than doubled this year. And then everyone started freaking the heck out.
Bud is not my beer of choice, but I’ve always been impressed by the brand loyalty it inspires. Good or bad, you know exactly what you’re getting when you crack one open. I know plenty of people who would never consider drinking anything else. But the fastest way to destroy a strong brand is to start fiddling with it. Consumers can smell fear, and as soon as a product looks vulnerable, they’re gone. As Slate pointed out, a competitor as successful as Budweiser should have ignored the Miller ads. By responding, they looked fearful – and it seems pretty clear that they are.
Here's my advice, Bud, and you can have it for free. Drop DDB Worldwide, for starters. Let Red Bull and Miller Lite have their niches. Stick with what you do well. You don’t need to follow everyone else off the brand extension cliff.
But, sorry, I'm still not going to drink your beer.
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