I worked on both the Budweiser and Bud Light brands for years.
This was the situation as long as I worked on them: Budweiser leaked market share like a professional leaker, while Bud Light grew at double digit rates every year for 15 years plus.
So it wasn’t all bad.
One was going up. One was going down.
Apparently that’s still the case.
There was a generational preference shift away from what were called the “domestic premiums”, ie American light lagers like Budweiser into ever lighter (lower calorie) beers.
It’s been going on for 30 years now and shows no sign of abating.
Lately it’s gotten a little absurd. Some ultra-light brews are now essentially little more than wet air. Surely the pendulum has to go the other way at some point, you would think.
Simultaneously, the American beer palate grew more sophisticated as a result of the craft brew resurgence in the 90s. Prohibition had killed regional brewers and there was suddenly a real thirst for more varied beers. Bad news for Bud. And that trend has understandably stuck. More beer is good. I like Bud, but I also like Guinness, for example.
And imports perceived as being more “sophisticated” (but are actually more skunky, yes I’m calling you out Heineken!) stole share from Bud too. It wasn’t uncommon for young Bud drinkers to switch to the sweaty green bottle when in more image-conscious drinking situations like nightclubs. That tells you something.
And oh yeah, spirits took off like a rocket ten years ago. Another torpedo to the stern of an already leaking ship. Less calories, more alcohol, more suave! Hard to beat that combo.
Budweiser just couldn’t catch a break!
And the truth is that Budweiser is a great beer. A light lager that is perfect for hot American summers.
And Bud’s worldwide popularity is telling too. There’s not a lot to dislike about Bud. It travels well for a reason.
Some think it’s too bland. I call those people beer snobs who urgently need to chill out, have a drink and shut the f**k up!
But that’s just me.
So I thought I’d give it the Bud problem a bit of a think and see what I could come up with.
!. GIVE IT AWAY FREE. I love this idea from Anomaly. Much like the Dennys free breakfast promotion. A national happy hour is a great way to stimulate trial that would otherwise simply not happen. Everybody loves free. Can’t argue with that.
2. TELL THE BUD HERITAGE STORY IN A COOL WAY.
Budweiser has a truly great story. It’s an American epic. Budweiser grew up with modern America. There are a ton of cool stories to tell. You’d just have to tell them in a really cool fashion.
3. TELL THE BUDWEISER QUALITY STORY IN A COOL WAY. A lot of Americans, especially the beer snobs, would be amazed at the lengths the brewery takes to ensure that every Bud tastes as good as the last.
4. TAKE ON HEINEKEN AND SAM ADAMS DIRECTLY. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that Sam Adams and Heineken are wonderful examples of how beer is all in the mind of the beer drinker. The facts here don’t support the images. Call them on their bullshit. Pick a fight. Fights are energizing.
5. OWN DRAFT BEER.
As long as I’ve been in this country, 20 years now, I’ve been aghast at the state of draft beer in this country. It’s primitive to say the least. Only Stella Artois is taking advantage of this with their lovely tap and glass draft presentation. I remember years ago seeing a prototype Budweiser draft device. It superchilled the beer and it looked and tasted great. What happened to that? To get a decent Budweiser draft you have to leave the country basically. It’s much better in Ireland for example. That’s just wrong!
6. ONLY TALK TO THE OPEN-MINDED: THE YOUNG. Because the people involved in the creation of beer advertising (both client and agency) are usually older than 25 they can understandably forget that they are not the audience for the advertising. People can get set in their alcohol consumption habits pretty young. And they develop irrational biases as they go. Therefore only do ads that actively recruit new drinkers. There is a constant wave of new drinkers washing up on the shore. They’re the ones with the open minds. Just talk to them. Ignore you and me. We’re old!
7. HARNESS THE BUD ARMY. Budweiser is an iconic brand with a special place in the culture and in the hearts of Americans. Use that. That is powerful. I loved the Bud brand when I worked on it. And I always felt there was a great idea in evangelizing about the brand. Rather than focusing on the people who are currently rejecting the brand, which was the kneejerk reaction, tap into the love of Bud fans for the brand. There’s a lot of emotion there. Not a lot of brands can say that. But you’d have to do it in a real way. Not bullshit ads that pretend to do it. Do it for real.
8. DO GREAT ADVERTISING. I know it’s tempting to look at Budweiser as a patient with a heart attack on a gurney. And get frantic. And to do ads that reflect this. But the truth is that you don’t bore people into drinking your beer. Your declining sales are your problem. They don’t give a shit. What’s in it for them? Advertising will only get you so far but you still have to act like the cool guy to get everyone to like you. At the end of the day the beer you drink is an irrational decision governed by criteria that exist solely in YOUR head. I would cite the success of Sam Adams and Heineken as proof of this. Image alone works in their favor. How can it work in Bud’s favor? Maybe pure emotion will work.
9. I’m still working on number nine.
10. And number ten. Hey, get off my back. I’m busy!