The evolution and launch of Black Crown, Budweiser’s latest attempt to throw a white collar around a red neck, shows that the mega-brewer is trying like hell to drag its brand into the 21st century. You can see it in the way the beer came to market and in the crazy media kit they sent out to beer writers like yours truly.
Let’s Start from the Beginning
The genesis of Black Crown was Budweiser Project 12, a contest of sorts where the brew masters from Bud’s 12 regional breweries went “wild” and each made a “special” beer to compete in a series of public tastings (most likely at tractor pulls and Tim McGraw concerts). The winner would be brought to market as the newest member of the Budweiser family.
Bud even stole a page from the Sam Adams/Sierra Nevada Longshot/Beer Camp playbook and released the three finalists for the beer-buying public to taste in a special twelve pack. I reviewed it for Today.com, and dubbed the beers Bud Plus, Bud Hop and Bud Roast, because each “wild” and “special” beer tasted exactly like regular Budweiser with a little something extra squeezed in.
When the dust settled, Bud went with the most conservative choice, the one I called Bud Plus, which basically tastes like a Bud turned up to 11. While it was in development, Bud called the beer Batch No. 91406, named for the Los Angeles area code from which it originated. But for its official launch, they decided black is the new…uh…black, and called it Black Crown.
Now that I’ve been a big boy beer writer for a while, packages of promotional goods have begun to steadily roll into my house. I get beers and tasting kits and other geegaws from brewers large and small from across the country. I’ll be honest and say I appreciate this – inspiration comes in many forms, and it’s terrific to have a cool story (or a great beer) appear at your doorstep.
But of all the swag that’s shown up, NOTHING compares to the kit Budweiser sent out for the launch of Black Crown.
I received a rather large box, and this is what’s inside (along with some marketing information that I quickly discarded):
Holy crap, I thought – it’s a spy kit! Budweiser wants me to be a secret agent!! What could be inside? A handgun? Top secret recording equipment? Deeply average beer? Ever the optimist, I flung it open to find…
Deeply average beer! But wait, there’s more. Along the left side of the protective case, nestled safely in custom-cut foam, were six small vials and a USB thumb drive. What could they be? Special aromas? Tasting companions? Marketing nonsense? A closer look revealed that they were…
Marketing nonsense! It looked as if each vial was meant to represent part of the essence of this very “premium” beer. As I had thrown away the literature that came with my Black Crown Spy Kit, I had to decipher their meanings myself. Here’s what I came up with:
Beechwood: This is easy – Budweiser’s always prattling on about Beechwood aging, blah, blah, blah, so obviously thy’re proud that Black Crown actually touched some wood.
Caramel Malt: Better than a vial full of rice, I guess.
Passion: This vial had a smear of lipstick on it, so obviously Budweiser’s brew master is a cross dresser who’s waaaay into Black Crown. Eww.
A Great Show: Glitter – whee! Perhaps this can be used to blind an enemy during a fight and flee unharmed - there’s still hope that this is a spy kit after all!
Handpicked: I dunno – looks like someone left a “to do” list in this vial. Maybe it’s my first mission…
The Unknown: Now this just seems lazy to me.
Account Exec (wearing hipster glasses) “What do we put in the sixth vial, you guys?”
Copywriter (bearded and wearing an ironic sweater) “I dunno.”
Graphic Designer: (A young female dressed like a sk8r boi *stomach rumbles*): I want sushi.
Account Exec and Copywriter: Hells yes!
Account Exec: But the vial…
Copywriter: I got it – “The Unknown” – we can leave the damn thing empty. Who cares, anyway?
Account Exec: I like it – mysterious!
Graphic Designer: Whatever – let’s eat!
After attempting to grease the skids by showering the bloggers and media types with metal suitcases full of beer, it was time to officially launch the beer, and Bud went back to what they know best – Super Bowl ads.
Black Crown had the first commercial slot after kickoff last Sunday, a very forgettable spot filled with premium beer commercial clichés; confident and scruffy men dressed in fitted black shirts, stick-thin ladies in glittery dresses, and some kind of weak stab at portraying a secret society of taste makers.
The commercial was so unoriginal that it was almost over before I realized that this was the “big launch” I’d been waiting for. It was really ordinary and kind of disappointing – it did nothing to shake people up and make them take notice. It was a wasted opportunity to do something special.
After all the public tastings and the special 12 packs and spiffing the media with spy kits, Budweiser dropped the ball on the goal line.
What To Do with the Kit?
I looked up the case on Amazon, and it turns out that a new one will run you about $35.00. I hate to be wasteful, and besides being Budweiser branded, it’s a decent aluminum hard case of a very usable size. Here’s what it looks like with all the padding stripped out:
Of course, I’ll have to do something about the Bud logo on the cover. The aluminum plate that it’s on seems fairly well glued to the top of the case, so if all else fails, I guess I can “re-brand” it with all those beer stickers I never put on my fridge:
Anyway, nice try Budweiser – maybe next year.
Thanks for the fancy case.