Budweiser: King of America?
- May 12, 2016
One of the world’s biggest brands took a big gulp and then took a step back, back to their heritage, back to their roots. Earlier this week, AB InBev announced it would temporarily relabel their Budweiser from the end of May through the November election. The new label will replace the brand name “Budweiser” with the name “America.” Of course, the timing is right. Summer is peak beer drinking season and the brand can ride the wave of another expected apex, a rise in American nationalism. The promotional period coincides with the Fourth of July, the 100th Anniversary of National Parks, the Rio Games, and, of course, the presidential election.
This is not Budweiser’s first foray into patriotic packaging for the summer, and other brands are trying to seize the nationalistic wave, too. For the first time ever, Hershey switched its traditional silver lettering to red, white and blue in support of Team USA. But this change for Bud is more than wrapping itself in the flag, which can confuse people as they reach into the cold cooler, eyes scanning for their familiar package. No risk of that here as the temporary packaging looks nearly identical to the traditional pack.
In many ways, this move is totally on-brand. Many people buy into the notion that Budweiser is a “real” American beer. Good motives will be attributed to them as they promote patriotism and even electoral participation. Yet tinkering with something as important as your brand name is a bold and risky proposition. My advice to most brands is to stay true to your core. On its face, that is what Budweiser is doing.
Not to be a buzzkill, but many Americans are acutely aware that a European company now owns Budweiser, even if it is still brewed in St. Louis with a package that reads America, and includes an image of Lady Liberty. By making this overt claim in the short term, they risk reminding people that Anheuser-Busch is no longer an American company, challenging the claim that Bud is the genuine article.
Competition in the US beer market is fierce and these beverage brands need to compete for every purchase. That craft beer is eating Budweiser’s lunch is evidenced by my colleague’s query upon hearing of the label change, “Are they really losing that much business to Sam Adams?”
Some predict a short-term bump in sales as people grab hold of the idea that this Bud is for you, American. Maybe some craft beer drinkers will put down their fancy bottles and reacquaint themselves with a classic. Another colleague, a craft guy for sure, exclaimed, “I’m definitely going to buy America.”
Can Budweiser ride the wave of nationalism and reclaim its core positioning as the quintessential American beer? Can AB InBev make Budweiser great again? We’ll have to wait to see what consumers elect to do.