In a recent Ad Age article it is reported that Budweiser is considering a return to what is termed “emotional” advertising. Usually in the context of beer and esp. Budweiser, “emotional” means doing something reminiscent of the classic 1980s beer ads where beer was portrayed as a reward for a hard day’s work. Steel mill workers wiping their sweaty brows and having that first sip of beer. And that is completely valid. In our culture beer is the agreed upon means of letting off a little steam and relaxing.
But a lot has changed since the 1980s. Blue collar workers and blue collar jobs no longer dominate the culture. “After a hard day’s code-writin’, nothin’ beats a Bud” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And “emotional” beer advertising is a lot harder to sell and execute do than comedic beer advertising. A belly laugh is a lot easier to gauge than a lump in the throat.
The problem with purely comedic beer ads is they can lack texture. You see them, you laugh, it’s over. Nothing sticks with you.The problem with purely emotional beer ads is that they can be too gooey for guys. “Come on dude, it’s only beer!”.
Part of the problem lies in the beer purchase decision process itself. It’s a lot more tricky than it might seem. The beer you drink says something about you. You drink Pabst Blue Ribbon? Then you live in Williamsburgh Brooklyn you’re 25 and wear Threadless t-shirts and ironically intended trucker hats. And it’s 2004…winking smiley face. You drink Budweiser? Then you…live in Ohio, you’re an average American. You probably like stuff…that’s cool. etc. I remember a great Bud print ad that read “What drinking one says about you is that you don’t care what drinking one says about you”. Which neatly sums up Bud’s place in the culture. It’s THE BEER in the USA. Like Guinness is in Ireland. It’s hard to both special and THE BEER in your culture. Budweiser is “special” in other countries where American beer is seen as exotic and cool much as Guinness is outside of Ireland.
One thing that I always found very telling and maddening about Budweiser in America was this. Young Bud drinkers would sometimes switch to Heineken when in a public social situation like a night club, ie when their image mattered. The glowing green bottle was considered smoover despite the fact that its contents had taken six months to get into your hand and so frankly couldn’t taste as good as Budweiser. But that just reinforces my point that with beer, it’s all in your head.
It’s easy to play laptop quarterback and tell Budweiser what they should and shouldn’t be doing. When I worked on the Budweiser business there was no shortage of people coming up to me and telling me what we should and shouldn’t do. Everyone is very familiar with both beer and tv commercials. But that doesn’t equate to experience of actually brewing and marketing beer in this country at this time. It’s a very big ship that moves very slowly.
Budweiser’s big problem hasn’t been brand image. Its problem is that for 25 years there has been a generational shift in taste preference away from light lager (Budweiser) to ever lighter and lighter lagers (Bud Light, Mich Ultra). So while on the one hand it (A-B) was losing share on Budweiser it was picking it up on Bud Light and Mich Ultra.
So will a more “emotional” approach work for Bud? Yeah, sure it could. At its core, a beer brand is your friend. Ideally your best friend. When you think about it, young beer drinkers ONLY associate their beer brand with fun and good times. Nobody ever cried tears of pain while drinking beer. That’s what whiskey is for!
So anything that works to “make friends” for the brand is a good thing. It’s all in the execution. And that’s why Budweiser, frankly, needs The Escape Pod. It’s not simply a matter of understanding the beer category or the Bud brand, it’s a matter of putting something on the TV that works like magic. And that’s the really tricky part.
Emotional beer advertising. Easy to parody, hard to create.