Before I get all hoity-toity and say “I haven’t had a Budweiser in years,” let me first say I’ve had my share, your share, your mom’s share and a light-drinking hobo’s share of Hamm’s and ol’ Grain Belt. I am by no means above it.
NOW. I haven’t had a Budweiser in years.
To read this Wall Street Journal piece about the king’s decline didn’t make me drop my coffee exactly, nor did its chief statistic: forty-four percent of drinkers age 21-27 have never tried Budweiser.
My first thought: Why would they?
To be clear, this is JUST Anheuser-Busch’s flagship Budweiser beer. This leaves out Bud Light, Bud Light Lime, Black Crown if they still even make that, and the other beers under AB InBev Alphabet Soup’s umbrella. Budweiser is distraught over the youth’s hesitation to drink specifically Budweiser.
The article suggests AB is befuddled by this, then it gives you the answer in statistical form: 50 percent of of 21- to 27-year-olds identify themselves as “foodies.” FIFTY PERCENT!! Those who fancy themselves foodies are out judging the new restaurant, the flashy cuisine fad, the brewery down the way that just opened. They aren’t drinking Budweiser — because it’s, you know, Budweiser.
Being the world’s biggest brand disconnects you from a few people. Unfortunately for the king, that group is rapidly growing. Having more than 3,000 breweries in the U.S. nowadays doesn’t help. Those so-called foodies are going to be busy a while. Disclosure: I am not in the 21-27 age bracket, but I am married to a woman who is (I still can’t believe she got in the van. Peanut butter cups, guys).
Now let’s talk about those unfortunate marketing pathways they’ve set upon.
The clydesdales were the drink’s only distinguishing quality, and they’re cutting them loose? Today’s marketing centers on being unique, not ANOTHER beer bouncing up and down in ANOTHER club scene … so who is AB calling up? According to the article, Jay Z and DJ group Cash Cash.
First, who is Cash Cash? Is that the group with Skillets and Dead Mouse? How are these artists going to spin Budweiser’s fortunes around? Speaking of spin, what made Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign go viral was the flooding of bottle shots onto social media. AB’s trying to copy it, and completely missing the point. I saw one of the “holidaybuds” commercials on ESPN.com this morning and it hit me like a ping-pong ball against the hull of an aircraft carrier. What’s worse, Coke’s campaign is fresh enough that Bud’s looks like an obvious ripoff (which it is).
I’m leery about the idea to sponsor food festivals and college parties, since Budweiser already sponsors a ton of events, but I’ve got to like ONE of their ideas. This one seems the most feasible.
So, what do they do?
Most of my ideas are a little nuts, I know, but hang with me for this one.
Maybe … Budweiser hasn’t fallen far enough.
Let’s take Converse and Levi’s, since they’re mentioned in the article. They snuck back into style after becoming afterthoughts — I mean total afterthoughts. Levi’s had been banished to Shopko, and Converses (ever-chic Chucks aside) were marooned on the bargain racks almost right out of the shippers (I know: I spent years at Champs Sports putting them there). That’s where Bud has to land if AB hopes to have it hauled back out by millennial “foodies.”
They’re not going to sip it for flavor’s sake, and they’re not going to chug it out of a marketing scheme. This generation grew up around marketing schemes. They’re aware they’re being targeted by marketing schemes.
AB’s best bet is keeping their core consumer base happy while letting Bud lay low for a few years, then switching the cans retro and betting on a PBR-like revival. Being “big beer” will never ensnare the audience they’re after, nor will lazy marketing.
Alternatively, AB could just buy some beer companies. They are AB-InBev, after all. Similarly to how MillerCoors bought Leinenkugel’s and Duvel snatched up Ommegang and Boulevard, AB could just throw their dollars at similarly-sized companies who are still coined as “craft.”
If it’s straight-up Budweiser AB wants to sell, though, that’s going to be tough. As long as it’s still around, being marketed and produced in bulk, they’ll be the opposite of what their target audience wants. They’ll still be Budweiser, and they’ll still print money. They just might have to settle for Budweiser being King Nothing.