I did something today I haven’t done in a long time. I drank a Budweiser, or “Bud Heavy” as my friends call it. The Bud Super Bowl ad made me wonder if I’d been missing something. I honestly can’t tell you how many years it’s been since I drank a Bud. And that is your problem, right? Millions of American can’t remember when they last had a Bud. And for millions of 20-somethings, they’ve never had a Budweiser. Craft beer has been nipping at your heels for decades and is starting to take a serious bite. That’s why you’re going on the offensive, using the Super Bowl stage to remind your core audience that Bud is great beer. High quality, easy drinking and refreshing beer are your mantras, but a lot of us simply aren’t swayed by marketing anymore.
Your Super Bowl ad got a lot of craft beer drinkers up in arms over your portrayal that we’re all pretentious hipsters. Yes, some of us are. No worries, I didn’t take it personally. Actually, I found the ad amusing, the craft beer community sometimes takes itself too seriously. Sometimes I dissect beers. I fuss over them. It’s easy to do when enjoying a beer with complex malt characteristics, hop flavors and yeast esters. But sometimes I drink a beer just to enjoy it. Sometimes I want a few easy drinking beers with dinner. Big 10% ABV Imperial Stouts and Belgian Tripels aren’t good choices for that. But I don’t order a Bud either. I’m more likely to have a few session IPAs, that style is as easy drinking and flavorful as you can find.
So, what did I taste? The same old Bud, the way I remembered it. Sweet, with no detectable hop bitterness. There was nothing special about it. I was hoping for more. Sure, it’s a lager, but I’ve got nothing against them and enjoy clean, crisp lagers as much as the next guy. I checked the Born On Date, it was fresh. There was nothing technically wrong with it, no off flavors or signs of infection. I’ll give you that, in those terms, Bud is a very high-quality beer. Every homebrewer knows consistency is difficult. Kudos for making Bud the same beer every batch. That consistency is a testament to your brewers’ skills.
But you can’t just blame craft drinkers for the downward sales of Bud, you’re partly to blame, A-B. Bud Light has probably stopped more people from drinking Bud Heavy than craft beer ever did. You’ve trained millions of customers to drink a flavorless alcohol delivery device under the guise of “beer.” I’m convinced Bud Light drinkers just want a beer-like experience without too much beer-like taste. There is just too much flavor and substance in Bud Heavy for your loyal army of Bud Light fans. The irony is sweeter than your beer.
But in another way, this isn’t even about beer. Falling Budweiser sales are the result of of a culture shift. You know what other big brand is struggling? McDonalds. Big Macs and Bud just aren’t what they used to be. Actually, I take that back, they are exactly what they used to be. Big Macs and Budweiser are designed to appeal to the largest possible audience but not to offend anyone’s tastes or sensibilities. By trying to appeal to everyone, you can’t delight anyone.
Tastes have changed. Americans want quality and flavor. Many now want food and drinks that are made with love by local folks who maximize quality, not mass-produced substitutes that are design to minimize production cost. America wants choice, flavor, quality and variety. In some ways that’s always been true, but never more so than now. Most of us are tired of marketing. Bud, stop trying to convince us you’re special and just be special (same goes for you, McDonalds.)
When it comes down to it, I don’t think your top priority is making great beer. I think you care more about winning market share and making even more money. I believe your purchases of Goose Island, Elysian and 10 Barrel are attempts to minimize financial risk, not a desire to make great beer. Please, stay hands-off with those acquisitions and let them keep making great beer.
Our eyes have been opened. We’re not willing to drink the same old beer anymore. We want flavor, choice, creativity and local options. For most of us craft beer converts, there’s no going back.
So keep the Bud flowing, we’ll keep not drinking it.
P.S. I got to visit your St. Louis, Missouri Brewery last year and enjoyed the tour. The facilities are immaculate and the Clydesdales were beautiful. Thank you for your hospitality.