Buy ‘Em and Blast ‘Em: Bud Reveals Anti-Craft Beer Agenda

 

bud-elysian-quoteIn the end, the money men usually win, largely because we’re all human.

We have mortgages, kids who need schooling, and bills to pay.  They say money can’t buy you happiness, but it can remove a great deal of stress from your daily life.

After struggling (or even thriving) at the helm of a craft brewery, it’s very tempting to take the money and run. No more worrying about making payroll, supply scarcity, increasing competition, new breweries poaching your employees, and the big one – at some point the Big Beer machine is going to make a push into your crafty little world and some breweries (maybe yours) will be crushed in the gears.

It’s like in the Terminator movies – you know SkyNet will soon become self-aware, and when it does, the robots will change everything.  Your survival is anything but certain. 

If you’re Elysian Brewing Company, which was bought by Budweiser last week, a briefcase full of cash and an end to all of the worrying about the future is a very tempting thing. All those hopes, all those fears, all those basic needs taken care of with a few signatures.  Your brewery will survive, even flourish, in the face of uncertainty.  Sure, you’ll be derided by a bunch of beer nerds, but what do they know?  They don’t understand the business side of the industry – it’s not their butts on the line.  You’ve got families to feed.

Besides, you tell yourself, maybe AB-InBev has seen the future, and has decided that crafting interesting beers that appeal to regular joes and connoisseurs alike is where this whole thing is headed.  The craft beer segment is exploding in popularity across demographic groups, and by purchasing craft breweries and embracing craft beer culture, AB-InBev is simply embracing the future of beer.

That’s a nice thought, but nowhere near the truth.  If Budweiser’s anti-craft Super Bowl ad told us anything, craft beer isn’t the future at AB-InBev, it’s the enemy.

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The Budweiser commercial in question (above) was so cartoonishly anti-craft-beer, it came off like a parody spot on Saturday Night Live.  There were bespeckled men with well-coiffed facial hair “fussing” over snifters, snarky references to beers brewed with fruit, and an overall message that the world of beer is being pussified by limp wristed craft beer drinkers, and Budweiser is having none of it.

It was a call to war – choose sides, ‘Murica!  Are you a red, white and blue pickup driving working man, or a whimpy little Prius driving craft beer quaffing poser?!!

Perhaps the most confounding part of the ad was that Budweiser almost specifically called out a beer brewed by Elysian (who, remember, they just purchased for millions and millions of dollars).  “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale,” the ad boldly proclaims, “We’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”  Elysian makes a Pecan Peach Pumpkin Amber called Gourdgia on My Mind.  Awkward!

Overall, the commercial makes AB-InBev come off as scared, angry and desperate to do whatever it takes to protect their flagship.  It also makes you wonder if they have any real strategy for their portfolio of brands.  Judging by this friendly fire incident, the answer is a resounding “no.”

As you might imagine, the ad came as a rude awakening to the folks at Elysian, who clearly just made a deal with the devil.

Elysian co-founder Dick Cantwell (the perfect name for an inept male prostitute, BTW) saw the ad while watching the Super Bowl with some of his brewers.  Cantwell was reluctant to accept the AB-InBev offer in the first place, but he was hopeful that having ownership with deep pockets would help to shore up Elysian’s future.  That hope quickly flamed into outrage Sunday night.

“I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone-deaf as to pretty directly (even if unwittingly) call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired, even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale,” Cantwell said in an email quoted by The Chicago Tribune.  “It doesn’t make our job any easier, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel any better about a deal I didn’t even want to happen. It’s made a difficult situation even more painful.”

Welcome to the AB-InBev family, Dick!

Now you might think that this backstabbing behavior will serve as a warning for other brewers targeted for acquisition by AB-InBev or one of the other brewing goliaths, but I’m not so sure. The resources and stability offered by Big Beer are incredibly tempting, especially if you think that they’ll simply acquire and support your competition if you say no.  You could be left there out in the cold as other brewers bask in the humming warmth of the machine.  If it’s going to happen anyway, why not be the brewery that benefits?

We’ll see how all of this plays out in the future, but it’s clear that the big boys are fed up with losing market share to craft brewers.  The gloves are off and punches are being thrown, even if they’re clumsy haymakers like we saw on Sunday night.  However you slice it, a player with the money and influence of AB-InBev can be hugely disruptive in the craft beer marketplace, especially if they are part of it.

2015 is going to be an interesting year.

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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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20 Comments on “Buy ‘Em and Blast ‘Em: Bud Reveals Anti-Craft Beer Agenda”

  1. February 3, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    ABI had a chance, not a large one, but a small chance to take the high ground (after the Nationwide ad seemingly claimed the bottom). They could have said “We’re just brewers, trying hard to make the best beer we can.” They could have riffed on JFK’s inaugural speech, “We make lagers, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

    Instead they shot themselves in the ass. They should aim higher.

    • February 3, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

      I agree. At first I thought it was a “macro and proud” spot, which I thought was kind of cool. Be proud of what you are. But then it took a turn and my jaw dropped.

      >

      • Tom
        February 8, 2015 at 2:43 am #

        All that is old is new again. I agree with your thinking it was perhaps a “macro and proud” angle they were going for – I liked that approach in ’97 when Miller tried it (although even then I disliked MGD). I can’t seem to find the TV commercial online (I have looked for years), but here is a news reference to the ads:

        http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/10/business/miller-brewing-fallon-mcelligott-executives-rise-defense-their-lite-beer.html

        ” The Miller Genuine Draft ads are centered on tongue-in-cheek assertions that its size (No. 7 nationally) makes it superior to microbrews. ”It’s time to drink beer from vats the size of Rhode Island,” one urges. Another, set to the Eartha Kitt song ”C’est Si Bon,” declares, ”It’s time for a good old macrobrew.” ”

        The moving away by beer drinkers from big brewers to smaller brewers, whether microbrews or craft beer, has been foreseen by likes if Miller and AB for some time.

  2. Chris Slaby
    February 3, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    So glad that you posted about this! I couldn’t even find the ad online when I first saw it during the Superbowl. This commercial says so many things and presents so many opportunities for thinking about so many other things. I guess the first two questions I have are: 1) who’s the audience for this ad? and 2) what is it trying to do? I guess part of this is just a larger question of advertising. I didn’t use Geico because their commercials are spectacular, but I did use Geico when I had car insurance, and their commercials are spectacular. But the point still stands, the content of the commercials didn’t make me desire their product. As an ad, what is the content of this beer commercial supposed to be doing? I can’t really see a way for this to increase sales of Budweiser. Is this just some sort of weird affirmation that Bud (and big beer in general) stands in opposition to craft? Maybe this is going too far, but it just kind of sounds like white pride or men’s rights or other movements that oppose challenges to normative values…

    • February 3, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

      I think it was their attempt to keep their customers from abandoning them by painting macro beer as folksy and craft beer drinkers as simpering nerds.

    • dplittle
      February 4, 2015 at 7:40 am #

      I find it very interesting as all the talk recently has been about the aging of the macro beer drinking market and that the future is to get the 21-to-27 year old drinkers to even TRY their macro beer. It’s almost like one side of the marketing office wasn’t talking to the other. If I was working hard to entice a younger demographic to try my product, I sure wouldn’t do it by making fun of them.

      Ever seen an ad for Pabst scoffing at drinkers who fussed over a rack of tasters?

  3. February 3, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

    Those who like good beer will continue to find and drink good beer. Micro and Craft breweries continue to open apace. I’m not worried.

    • February 3, 2015 at 9:58 pm #

      I’m not worried either, I’m more shocked that they were so on the nose about their detest for craft beer. You gotta be pretty desperate to mention your competition (craft beer) in your ad, nonetheless your Super Bowl ad.

  4. February 3, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    I liked and agreed with the Beervana post over at:

    http://beervana.blogspot.com/2015/02/bud-finds-its-voice.html

    From an advertising standpoint, I thought the spot was pitch-perfect for Bud’s target market. As a craft beer drinker it rubbed me the wrong way to be sure in many the same ways Jim writes about above. But I’m not buying Bud, and AB InBev knows they can’t turn the craft beer drinker. What they’re doing here is creating marketing that reassures their Bud customer base that they should feel good walking into a store or bar and getting a Bud. They’re not looking to gain Bud sales, market share or shelf space from craft beer with this advertising. They’re just trying to hold on to it. And if you read between the lines here, it also tells us big beer sees craft beer as a legitimate contender. You don’t spend that kind of money on a Superbowl spot if you don’t.

    • February 3, 2015 at 9:59 pm #

      Agreed. Clearly craft beer is Bud’s boogeyman.

    • March 2, 2015 at 5:15 am #

      I’m agreed with that.

      Can someone please explain why Budweiser have bought Elysian Brewing Company? Do they continue the business under the same model, continue to produce the same beers and just take the profits for themselves? Or do they use the premises to brew Budweiser? Or close it down completely to eliminate the competition?

      (Excuse my ignorance, but I am keen to learn)! Thanks.

      • March 2, 2015 at 7:27 am #

        They likely just take tr profits, but maximize them by using their buying and distribution resources to lower some costs. It’s their way of balancing their portfolio to essentially bet against their own struggling macro brands. it might be okay as long as they don’t mess with the quality of the beer, but that’ll likely happen at some point when they start brewing Elysian branded beers at other large regional facilities to shave production and shipping costs. This happened with some Goose Island beers, and fans say they can taste a difference.

        • March 2, 2015 at 8:07 am #

          Thanks Jim, very helpful!

  5. Steve in Austin
    February 3, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    There are only 2 places that a business can reach the consumer; at the top (quality/service) or at the bottom(least cost). you can buy shoes at Nordstrom or Wal-Mart, it’s your choice but you probably make it automatically. Most consumers of quality craft beer won’t be swayed by A-B and honestly, most Bud drinkers aren’t going to like what’s in my fridge. Plus, Bud is fine for boiling bratwurst. I don’t blame them for going after their rapidly growing competition. But as usual they missed the big oportunity to tell their side of the story. Tell me what is good about your product before you tell me what is bad about the other guy. Why not show those big horses pouring Bud into a kettle of sausages?

    One thing they nailed…Pumpkin is for pie.

  6. WJ Milton
    February 3, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

    A well “crafted” commercial highlights why a consumer should like their product…any company whose main message is to tell you why should not do business with their competitor sends me right to said competitor…AB-InBev brews a beverage so as not to offend anyone instead of making a great beer they can stand behind…also…to buy craft breweries only to savage them…not a real good marketing technique…I guess when you lose 2/3 of your sales you get desperate…

  7. February 4, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

    Reblogged this on Benn There Done That.

  8. February 5, 2015 at 1:46 am #

    As my good friend Ralfy (I like to pretend we’re friends…) at ralfy.com says… It’s customers who have the power to change industries.

  9. February 9, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

    I thought this commercial was one of the worst of the Bowl, right behind Kim Kardashian for T-Mobile. It was a celebration of mediocrity, in the worst way.

    I agree, “macro and proud” is a solid message I could get behind. I’ve bought a Bud or two on special at a bar. There’s nothing wrong with drinking a cheap beer. But they’re execution seemed desperate and weirdly hostile. After the Lost Dog/Clydesdales commercial, it felt seriously out of place. I lost respect for AB on this one. Disappointing..

  10. March 2, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    Brew beer for money, or brew it for love! Nice article!

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