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I have set foot in the Budweiser Research Pilot Brewery. I have met the talented, kind, passionate people who work there. I’ve written about the place as objectively as I could. But as a craft beer supporter, I can’t stand by when the company airs a commercial like they did during Sunday’s Super Bowl broadcast.
Never has the oh-so-popular internet adage of “SHOTS FIRED” been so applicable as it was when Anheuser unveiled a new, third-quarter Budweieser ad titled “Brewed the Hard Way.” Over the course of a minute, we learn that the brand is embracing its “macro” title and doesn’t feel at all threatened by craft brewers and their flavorful, unique products as those craft beers continue a decade-long surge in popularity and relevance. In fact, Anheuser is so non-threatened by craft beer that it saw fit to spend $9 million on a 60-second Super Bowl ad just to make sure you were aware of that fact. Because that’s what a company does when it’s definitely not being threatened. View the ad below before we continue:
Okay, let’s go through it and disseminate everything we’ve learned, shall we?
Budweiser is “proudly a macro beer”
This is like that “reclaiming” of a negative word thing we’ve heard about before, yes? “Macro” being the opposite of “micro,” the term that was once applied to what are now typically referred to as craft brewers. But yeah, they’re proud to be big, because big obviously correlates to “best.” After all, McDonald’s makes the highest quality hamburgers in the world, right?
It’s not “brewed to be fussed over”
You know that the mustachioed hipster in this shot isn’t drinking a Bud, because
a. It’s not yellow, and
b. He wants to smell it, and that would be pointless with a Bud.
I find myself wondering about the casting for this ad. “Wanted: People willing to visually resemble the segment of society we don’t understand and don’t want as customers. For pay!”
“This is the only beer Beechwood Aged”
“Alright guys, hear me out. So, what if right after we say it’s not to be fussed over, we IMMEDIATELY trumpet the fact that it’s beechwood aged, something that roughly 1% of our target demographic understands? It’ll be great, and not sound fussy at all.”
“It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting”
“Please, if at all possible, try not to taste our beer. If you’re able to disable your gag reflex and just pour it straight down your gullet and into your stomach in one fell swoop while bypassing the taste buds altogether, that would be ideal.”
“The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer brewed the hard way.”
The average Budweiser drinker clearly appreciates beer made “the hard way.” The hard way, as it turns out, is being bought out by a Belgian brewing conglomerate, gutting American jobs and leveraging the full lobbying and marketing power of an international business goliath. “The hard way” is definitely not starting a small business that brews experimental beer to compete with those giants. There’s nothing hard about the latter. Craft beer is easy, didn’t you know that? Maybe that’s why craft beer’s sales numbers continue to surge every year, because it’s just soeasy.
“Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale, we’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”
Only losers drink pumpkin peach ale. Everyone knows this. Except, wait, what’s that? Elysian Brewing, the Seattle brewery that Anheuser just purchased last week, makes a … yes … pumpkin peach ale. It’s called “Gourdia on My Mind .” Anheuser is literally mocking the consumers of the COMPANIES THEY NOW OWN. Honestly, how devastating is that for the Elysian brewing team? Your owners think your customers are pretentious hipsters. These are the people who own your business. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that Twitter handles of employees like @ElysianMatt have already been deleted after they informed the public that employees weren’t even informed of the acquisition before it was announced online.
And moreover, how stupid does Anheuser think the average viewer is? The effectiveness of anything in this commercial is almost entirely dependent upon the consumer’s ignorance—they’re praying you’re too stupid to realize that it’s all BS.
That’s all. In a Super Bowl where even the Bud Light commercials could be laid-back and fun (I actually enjoyed the human Pac Man set-up), it was a shame to spend the third quarter watching the craft beer community react en masse to an unprecedented attack from Big Beer.
What’s more, they won’t even own up to their own attack. Already, there have been pieces published with company executives explaining that this is definitely not an attack on craft beer. As Brian Perkins, VP of Marketing for Budweiser states in that piece, this ad isn’t intended to skewer craft beer at all, despite the obvious, stereotyped characters of mustachioed hipsters sniffing flights of craft beer. Instead, he says AB “acquires and sells craft beer. We love craft beer. This is an affirmation of what Budweiser is, not an attack on what it isn’t.” Note that in another piece, he refers to the earlier-mentioned “pumpkin peach” beer as “a fabricated, ludicrous flavor combination,” apparently blissfully unaware that his company was in the process of buying a brewery that made EXACTLY THAT PRODUCT. We’re at Irony Defcon 1, people.
The actual intention of his quotes are to defuse a little tension, if possible. There’s only one group of people who would ever conceivably end up reading those posts on the internet, and that’s angry craft beer drinkers. Budweiser consumers will simply see the ad’s obvious message: “Craft beer is for pretentious fools, Budweiser is for real people” and presumably let confirmation bias do the rest of the work. Meanwhile, the company can simultaneously deny the surface message of their own content in an effort to placate at least a portion of the people pissed off by the ad. It won’t work, but there’s no reason for them not to try. They don’t have to worry about the two segments crossing, because by and large they won’t. Once again, it’s a strategy that hinges entirely on the ignorance of their core consumers.
What it boils down to is this: For this ad to be successful, Budweiser needs for you to be oblivious.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and was drinking a homebrew barleywine while writing this. You can follow him on Twitter.