One of the biggest names in beer is going through a bit of an identity crisis. Budweiser, the predominant bland yet drinkable, mid-priced beer is losing ground to a new generation of drinkers that favors variety and specialization.
This past fall, a report released in the Wall Street Journal revealed that for the first time Americans drank more craft beer than Budweiser in 2013. Since 2003, Budweiser sales have consistently plummeted from 30 million barrels sold a year to 16 million in 2013. Craft beer sales on the other hand have creeped from just over 5 million barrels to just above Budweiser sales at 16.1 million in 2013.
With the tables turned, Budweiser has been on a marketing rampage. First, it released an ad attempting to play up the “classic” aspect of its beverage to appeal to millennials. Its #HolidayBuds campaign involved the special release of “throwback” bottling in old fashioned crates that look like something a college student might buy at Urban Outfitters. The limited edition holiday special was a blatant attempt to create something special among a growing market of beautifully packaged and diversely flavored craft brews.
Another Budweiser holiday commercial partnered with Lyft, a trendy ride-sharing app, as a clever way to warn against drinking and driving. The year 2014 as a whole saw an influx of millennial-targeted marketing among the “big brands” that are threatened by a changing market, yet Budweiser’s seems like one of the more obvious attempts to lure in a new consumer base.
Seemingly growing more frustrated with its failure to gain brand loyalty with young beer drinkers, Budweiser amped up its marketing strategy, this time in front of millions of viewers at the Super Bowl. Instead of trying to play into its “craft” qualities, Budweiser basically sent a big “f-you” to the growing tribe of millennial beer snobs.
“It’s brewed for drinking, not dissecting” is one of the many digs at the booming world of craft beers, where it contrasts a bartender sliding bottles to customers with some mustachioed young men smelling small glasses of beer before tasting them. I can’t say the ad made me want to drink its self proclaimed “golden suds” instead of a “pumpkin peach ale” but it did do a good job of showing how Bud drinkers have fun instead of fussing with their drinks.
On the other hand, Hopstories, a website dedicated to sharing the world of craft beer through film, saw a golden opportunity for parody. It rebutted the commercial with lines like “It’s not brewed to be slammed, it’s brewed to taste good.” Edited in the exact same style, the craft beer version doesn’t have to try that hard to convince its audience that its beer is brewed the “actual hard way,” even showing a brewer in a giant vat of hops manually testing the product.
What Budweiser misses in its ad is that craft beer is no longer reserved for the “too-cool” beer snob set, but that it has already reached the masses. With a company as big as Budweiser using its biggest advertisement slot of the year to target the craft brew industry, it’s clear that this isn’t a quick and fleeting fad.
There are already nearly 3,000 craft breweries in the U.S. but according to many industry experts, this isn’t a cause for alarm. There’s no bubble on the brink of bursting, but rather a boom that will likely plateau in the coming years. Bart Watson, an economist at the Brewer’s Association, told MSNBC that as of October 2013 brewery openings exceed closings by a far margin, but as the supply starts to exceed demand this margin may close but not collapse the industry.
There is still plenty of room in the economy for more diversity in the craft beer world and it doesn’t seem like Budweiser is going away anytime soon. In the interim we will just have to watch the giants duke it out against the growing gang of craft brewers.
Want more on beer? Check out these articles below: