Friday, February 6, 2015

Tipping Point: Anhueser-Busch's Superbowl Ad Bashing Beer Geeks

A friend posted The Whine of the Craft Beer Children on Facebook in response to the beer geek bashing Budweiser Superbowl ad.  My friend agreed with the article's sentiment, and I can't argue even though I don't like the tone. I get it—an insulting ad is seen as insulting, so the writer uses an insulting angle to make a point. Message received.

However, I think the larger point is missed. Budweiser has thrown in the towel, and for good this time.

Screen shot from Budweiser Superbowl Ad: Brewed the Hard Way

At my last Superbowl party in 2006, I bought a bottle of AB Brewmaster's Private Reserve. It was a bigger than wine size bottle of premium lager that was a bit better than their average. To my friends at the party, I asked them what this bottle represented. Responding to their quizzical looks, I said "It's the beginning of the end. AB just admitted craft beer is real."

Today, craft beer is winning big and macro is losing at every turn. Now, AB is dropping pretenses and taking advantage of craft beer's middle age. As the pioneers of craft beer get long in the tooth and pass on their life's work, AB will take advantage of the opportunity. As a result, the beer world will become more complicated and the lines between macro and micro will blur. This ad simply marks a clear business decision in light of these changes. AB is just trying to re-frame its brand with those who identify with drinking thoughtless beer while purchasing enough craft brands to insure profits.

Craft beer will change too. As the number of breweries grow, the old school collaboration will first be tested and then finally snap. This part of the whine article is spot on—competition between craft brewers will soon be a matter of survival. The warm fuzzy story of pulling together against the common macro enemy is crumbling and the beer world will be forever changed. In the old days, say five years ago is all, a beer gathering meant seeing all the same faces as every other beer event. Today, I can't even think of attending all that is beery in the local scene, plus count myself lucky to run into a handful of familiar faces. To visit any of my favorite local liquor stores like Four Firkins or Elevated, the choices are beyond my financial and drinking resources to support craft brew; I now have to pick winners and losers.

AB knows what I know, or vice versa. They tried to wage war on an equal footing and got pummeled. Trapped in the corner by a steady downtrend, they are simply buying up the competition, rebuilding their own brand image and fighting their way out of a corner. Likely, they will play both ends and still make money in the new beer world in spite of a shrinking market share or anything a fussy beer geek says.

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