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.

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.

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!


  1. Hi Vinny,

    Bloody hell – first Harley, now Budweiser. And of course let’s not forget the Great American Auto Industry. There seems to be a few sinking ships around and it’s sad. Thank God Coke still has the world in its palm.

    With that in mind, you may find this interesting:

    Good luck with figuring out 9&10,

  2. well, that’s a funny coincidence.
    I’m just starting to prepare a pitch for our beer and came to some similar conclusions.
    but few great ideas here.

    cheers, mate!

  3. I’m sure you’ve seen this before, but here is a good example of how Johnnie Walker did points 2 & 3.

  4. I work for an American company in London. Every Friday they unlock two big chilled cabinets full of a range of bottled beers. And every Friday while the Staropramen, Corona and Budvar quickly vanish the four or five shelves dedicated to Budweiser stay resolutely untouched until it’s the only one left.

    I’d say the British (European?) attitude to Bud is nicely summed up here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2008/oct/04/hard.sell.budweiser

    Basically you only drink it if a) you’ve never really given your lager consumption much thought or b) you’ve got no choice.

  5. Bentos,
    wow, that’s my second coincidence today!
    I looooooove beer and I only work on Fridays!
    need anyone?

  6. btw,
    out of pure curiosity I would really like to know how Budweiser comes true in blind taste tests.
    according to my knowledge all so-called “beer experts” and people claiming one beer is a total piss and other is exquisite drinking experience don’t tell ’em apart in a test.
    Vinny, any data on that?

  7. Riki, yeah, there’s a bit in ‘Hey Whipple..’ where Sullivan quotes someone saying that in blind tests no one can tell beers apart so when people pay a premium price ..”they are drinking the advertising.”

    But there’s more to a beers brand image than the commercial. For instance Stella Artois has a long heritage of classy, intelligent ads but in most British pubs it’s known as ‘wife-beater’ and seen as a bit of an Essex beer. As far as I know Budvar and Staropramen don’t really do any advertising but their brand image is very strong.

    I think rather than drinking the advertising people are drinking the brand, and Bud’s brand is ‘you don’t really like beer do you’.

  8. Bentos, I’ve personally been in such a test. scored low (but got drunk at the end). but at that time there were really a couple of beers in my country. that’s why I’m asking.

    on Budvar and Staropramen. IMHO, they have a Czech heritage that separates them nationally (Czech beer vs English beer vs Polish beer vs Brazilian beer), but not brand vs brand, if you know what I mean.

  9. cheers for all the comments. re: taste tests. not sure. i’m preetty sure i could tell the difference between American light lager and its hoppier tasting European cousins. Budweiser comes in for unfair criticism in my opinion. As if heavier beer is automatically “right” or “better”. Guinness has the opposite problem. Much reverence for the brand but fuck all drinking of this beer .

    beer is meant to be drunk not talked about and analyzed. Bud is a lager. Lager is supposed to be easy to drink and refreshing. that’s it. the degree of hop flavor is in the mouth of the beer holder. i personally find Budvar to be a bit too hoppy for my tastes. I like Stella though. which in the UK has a reputation for being a downmarket beer by virtue of its association with the people who drink it. which is at odds with the “reassuringly expensive” ads they did for years.

    which of which serves to point out that beer is a funny old game.

  10. I get all my beer information from these guys:

  11. thanks guy. remember THE LAGER LADS? that’s our target here.

  12. I love this discussion. I am part beer snob that you sneer at Vinny. But I will admit when I was a teenager mowing the lawn in the heat the best fucking beer on the planet to drink while mowing was an ice cold Schmidts! And Bud was also very close to that. When you have the perfect match of temperature and thirst you really can drink a bud and be as refreshed as if it was water.

    But isn’t this discussion a microcosm of the splintering of so many industries, whether it is media, advertising, music etc. The ease at having a wide choice runs against the mass marketed products. And maybe there is nothing Bud can do except compete on price? Though I will say they can on a small scale do things to earn favor from people. Loved your happy hour idea. And yes they really do need to target the 15-25 year olds but technically that is illegal here ;-) Sssh!

  13. I know I’m late to the party here chaps (as per fcuking usual) but top of my head how about filling a few famous swimming pools with bud. That one overlooking L.A, maybe take it global such as with Bondi Icebergs. ‘Let’s crawl with Bud’. Could be a swimmer doing a crawl with Bud bottle poolside. Maybe do an ambient (real option to swim in beer)?

  14. My Bud Crawl went down well !

  15. That’s a young Adam Sandler, Vinny.
    I was kinda thinking of a homage to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG-SNWwaQZc&feature=related. Airplane! style laughs. Possibly throw in a bit of this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLEmyeQlS5M&feature=related

  16. They sold the company to the Belgians. Let them drink it.

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