Thursday, February 5, 2015

Budweiser's Super Bowl Commercial and Craft Beer's Ridiculous Reaction



I did not want to write this article. I did not want to write this article because Budweiser's Super Bowl advertisement was not that big of a deal. It didn't deserve an article. I watched it live, cracked a wry smile and continued to watch the game. Never gave it a second thought. A late night check of my Twitter feed proved I may have been the only one in the craft beer community who felt that way. As a digital media company that caters to craft beer, our timeline exists solely of breweries, brewers, bars and writers from the craft beer community. I was stunned by the over the top reactions and opinions of just about everyone. I quickly sent out the following tweet and headed to bed.
Four full days later and there are still people talking about it and asking me to expand my opinion since I seem to be the lone outlier in my beliefs. Let it be known that this is not an article about Budweiser's Super Bowl Commercial but rather an opinion piece about the commercial, the craft beer community's reaction to the commercial, and a few big picture thoughts on the community at large.

Disclaimer #1: I am an unabashed supporter of good beer. Our website is dedicated to all of the “craft” beer producing companies in New York State.  I have spent an incredible amount of time championing the cause of these New York State brewers.

Disclaimer #2: There are a lot of beer writers and brewers that I have the utmost amount of respect for.  My disagreement with their thoughts and opinions are the basis for this article.  I feel that I can criticize their opinions strongly while still maintaining respect for their work. 

Point 1 – I do not find AB-InBev or any of the other macro beers to be the “enemy”.
I have a unique background when it comes to the craft beer vs. corporate beer culture. I am a business man by trade. I studied business. I work in business (sort of). I am a marketing guy.  I love great commercials. I appreciate businesses that have taken advantage of our capitalistic society and achieved success. Budweiser has become incredibly successful. Before the buyout they employed a large number of American workers (and still do). My goal here is not to turn this into whether or not AB-InBev is good for the American economy, but rather to express my appreciation of a successful business. Do large corporations play some dirty tricks? Sure. Payola for draft lines? All the time. Guess what, there are craft brewers who do the same thing.

Why do we hate success? You can see it in the “craft” beer community. Sam Adams? Saranac? “No thanks they don't brew anything good.” “They are too big.” Really? First, they brew some excellent beers. Secondly, why discourage success?

I have always hated the fallacy that just because something is bad, its counterpart must be good. It is not logical. It makes no sense. It is for that reason that I HATE slogans such as “No Crap on Tap” and “No Fizzy Yellow Beer”. OK, you do not serve any macro beers. Does that mean that everything else you serve is good by default? What if you do not clean your tap lines regularly? What if your beer is past its “serve by” date? There are a hundred factors that influence the quality of a beer. Just because it doesn't say Budweiser or Miller on the label means that it is good. I have had plenty of beers brewed by small independent brewers that were awful.

Do I enjoy any macro beers? Not really. Do they taste awful? No, they just don't taste like much at all. Flavored water if you will. Will I have one if there is nothing else or if the occasion is right? Yes, I will. Not often, but I will. I have had a very prominent, nationally know craft beer writer tell me in a casual conversation that if the conditions are right, Miller Lite is his all-time favorite beer. If I see someone enjoying a macro, I will suggest an alternative. If they don't want to try it I move on. If they try it and still prefer their usual then good for them. Personal tastes and different opinions. That is a good thing.

Point 2 – Craft Beer fans can be humongous hypocrites.
“I don't drink anything made by large brewers. I like to support local and small businesses.” Do you know how many craft beer snobs I have seen stop for a bite to eat at McDonald's on their way home from Wal-Mart in their Toyota?

Point 3 – The commercial and our massive little brother complex.
Did Budweiser attempt to promote their product by knocking craft beer? Yes, they did. The exact same thing that craft beer fans do when they knock macro beer (See Point 1: “No Crap on Tap”. See Point 2: Hypocrites).

Is Budweiser being hypocritical by knocking peach beer after buying a brewery that brews a peach beer? Yes, they are. Newsflash, Budweiser has dozens of labels and hundreds of beers in its portfolio. While the sales numbers of their core products are trending downwards, those core products still make up an incredibly large percentage of their sales. If they can increase sales of Budweiser and Bud Light while decreasing the sales of one beer brewed by one of their comparatively tiny subsidiaries, then they are all for that. The marketing people who made that commercial did so with the intent to sell more Budweiser and Bud Light. Their goal was not to promote every product in the portfolio.

I was the oldest of four siblings so there is nothing I hated more growing up than the little brother complex. Craft beer fans have this complex in spades.  Here is the fact of the matter:  

Sales of craft beer are up. Way up. There has been tremendous growth over a sustained period of time. Sales of macro beer are down. They have been trending downward for a sustained amount of time. Customers tastes are switching. Lawmakers are noticing. Everyone knows this. If you don't, craft beer fans will quickly show you a bar chart to prove it. I don't see craft beer vs. the macros as a battle, but plenty of people do. It is obvious to everyone including Budweiser. They know it, and that is the reason they made the commercial. Ten years ago, no macro beer company would even acknowledge the idea of flavorful beer. Now Miller is emphasizing the hops they brew with. Budweiser took a shot at peach beer (and bearded guys drinking dark beer out of a snifter).

My internal reaction was “Huh. Took a shot at beer nerds. Kind of funny.” I thought that would be the prevailing reaction, but I was very, very wrong.  Instead of laughing at the desperate attempt, the craft beer world reacted with outrage.  

Do I fuss over my beer? Of course. Our website has developed its own, incredibly complex rating system and has scored over 500 beers using that system. Are there times that I have no desire to rate a beer, but rather just pour and enjoy it for what it is? Countless times. Fuss over it. Don't fuss over it. Who cares? It is beer, it was invented to be enjoyed. Sip your Double IPA in your specially made IPA glass? Go for it. Pour your light beer into six red, plastic cups and throw ping pong balls into it? Be my guest. As long as you are doing it responsibly and not hopping behind the wheel to drive, I don't care. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy beer. There are just different ways. Let's lose the self-righteousness and just enjoy the beer you prefer.

8 comments:

Chad9976 said...

I would agree with most of your points. Though you're not really listing specific examples of the reactions that turned you off.

Not sure if you saw my blog, but I said the commercial hadn't offended me and I was actually glad to see it for two reasons:

1. ABI pretty much admitted that no one drinks Budweiser for the taste. A point craft beer enthusiasts have been saying all along.

2. The fact they even acknowledged the existence of craft beer was a victory because it means they actually view it as competition. As well they should as sales of Budweiser (per se) are actually less than the entire craft beer market output.

I do understand your point about not boycotting ABI while driving a Toyota to McDonald's and Walmart. That being said, McDonalds and Walmart and not buying up local bistros and bodegas as a way to hold on to market share.

And ABI absolutely is doing everything in their power to make it as difficult as possible for small breweries to grow - lobbying for stringent, arbitrary and ridiculous regulations for example. Frivolous nuisance lawsuits, and just outright buying distributorships. That's something that affects the entire market. So that's definitely something to consider.

I say mocking, spoofing, deriding, etc. is totally fair game. Name-calling and such is admittedly juvenille in nature and far from professional. However, it can be funny. You said it yourself - you laughed at the Budweiser commercial for its lampooning of the craft beer hipster. As a form of actual argument it's a complete and total Reductio ad Absurdum fallacy. It's a cheap tactic often used in politics, so it doesn't surprise me that it was used here. I do take exception whenever I hear BMC swillers paint the entire craft beer community as mustachioed, plaid-wearing hipsters. That's a stereotype. On the opposite end, craft beer nerds who think 100% of BMC's audience is just frat boys and rednecks is of course wrong. In the context of a joke it's funny, though.

Evan Dawson said...

Can't really disagree more, and I think it's unwise to condescend to your community of craft beer lovers and makers without listing a single example.

First of all, Budweiser was not the enemy of craft beer. It's a big world. But Budweiser declared war in their ad. You think that's the only shot they'll fire? You think it's mostly a funny ad, no big deal? They chose the largest possible venue to denigrate an entire community. You think someone isn't the enemy, which is lovely, because they'll happily cut your throat.

Second, I've heard some people say, "What's the big deal? Craft beer lovers don't drink Budweiser, and Budweiser drinkers don't drink craft beer. That ignores the math that says Budweiser drinkers are very much prone to moving into the craft beer category. Budweiser held a 5-to-1 edge over craft just a decade ago. Now, it's even. Budweiser is not trying to rally their base; they're trying to KEEP their base by trying to cut into craft. Zero sum game.

Third, I've talked to third wave coffee folks, small winery owners, and farmers. That ad attacks the idea that caring about quality -- yes, fussing over quality -- is valuable. That ad makes it seem like anyone who would do that is some pompous asshole. As a coffee roaster told me, "Budweiser fired a shot at a whole community of people who care about their products, how it's grown, where it's from."

Finally, you want to go down the road of hypocrisy? That was ridiculous. Your argument implies that the only consistent lifestyle is to never purchase from a big brand. Are some people hypocritical? Sure. Look at Davos. Quite a carbon footprint. But to broadly ridicule craft beer lovers because some drive trucks or stop at Walmart for light bulbs or maybe even -- gasp -- on a long day of work, stop for fast food? Come off it.

We do vote with our wallet. I could do a better job of that myself, and I'm trying to. But you just implied that I'm a hypocrite because I'm not perfectly consistent. That's insulting to me. That Bud ad is not some war crime, but it should not be ignored. Craft beer has come too far to let a big brand define it on such a large stage.

Daniel Terwilliger said...

I didn't see the commercial during the game because I was literally pouring myself a great craft beer. I followed up the next day and watched the commercial before I was inundated with everyone else's opinion. In fact I saw your original tweet and I was taken back a little bit. I watched the commercial, took it in for a minute and then left it alone. It doesn't have to be considered a bad commercial but its kind of offensive. I laughed it off.

In-Bev definitely stirred the pot a little bit and that's probably what they intended to do. I understand it wasn't an In-Bev commercial, it was a Bud commercial but they are talking out of both sides of their mouth. As you mentioned they literally just bought Elysian. I don't hate them for it but I did find it a little off color. Bud is basically In-Bev and their messages should be the same.

Elysian Brewing co-founder Dick Cantwell emailed a response to Super Bowl advertisement to the Chicago Tribune that read: "I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone-deaf as to pretty directly (even if unwittingly) call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired, even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale. It doesn't make our job any easier, and it certainly doesn't make me feel any better about a deal I didn't even want to happen. It's made a difficult situation even more painful."

http://www.sctimes.com/story/life/food/2015/02/05/budweiser-responds-ad-backlash/22924683/

I 100% agree with your comments about fine line between craft beer and running a business. I've toed this line for sometime now. How does one operate a brewery (a business) and make a product (craft beer) that will keep people interested, engaged and still make a profit. More importantly how do they sell enough to grow and become extremely successful. I don't think their is an answer here. I don't think In-Bev buying up craft breweries is the answer. I think the answer is fixing the 3 tier system, taking the distribution and back hand deals away from the big guys and leveling the playing field. The system needs to be fixed. I've counted too many times where the "Bud" rep walks in and doesn't mention a single new craft beer offering. The ask about the basics and then might mention an old barrel they are trying to get rid of. That's what pisses me off and that's what needs to be fixed. The commercial just reminded me of how they own the whole process from brewing, delivering and back filling pockets.

We all know that craft beer drinkers want the next great or the hoppiest beer or the most rare beer. They want something different, they want their palate to be challenged. The biggest issue I see for breweries is making a solid core that people keep buying and then keep a changing portfolio. We heard about Sam Adams complaining and we've seen Saranac and Long Trail recently re-brand themselves and add new beers. We all love to grab a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Sam Adams once and while, heck the best purchases on the shelves are usually the Saranac or Otter Creek mixed 12 packs. As long as they keep their idea's and beers fresh we will keep buying them. If they do that then they can grow naturally or heck if they want to get bought out then so be it. If the beer is still good then I will drink it.

I very rarely drink the same beer twice in a row and that's my own personal preference. Their is no right or wrong way to drink beer. As you said, the important thing is getting others to try it. I don't push craft beer down anyone's throat. I simply love the product and the industry. Frankly this probably the most I have written in awhile so excuse my poor grammar or English but it gets me excited when others get excited for good or bad. In the end, I am not really disagreeing, just adding my 2 cents. Cheers!

The Foaming Head said...

Our two part response in order to try and address some points made from the two comments.

First, Chad and Evan both thought it was unfair to rip the entire community without specific examples. My point of view was that the entire community seemed to share the exact same feelings. Although I am sure there are some, I have not seen a single voice who shared my point of view. My article was addressing this unanimous reaction. I was annoyed with the collective narrative. There was not one single tweet or blog that inspired my reaction. I tried to convey that with the tweet that I posted and Evan subsequently used in his Palate Press article. “#CraftBeer Twitter”. It was the entire community’s unanimous reaction that I disagreed with.

To address Evan’s first point. He states that Budweiser was not the enemy of the craft beer world but their commercial was a “declaration of war”, implying that the commercial is ground zero for this battle. As I stated in the article, I do not think that it necessarily need to be macro vs craft. I do not see this “war” that everyone talks about. In a decade or two, I see the industry settling into a neighborhood pizza shop/Domino’s Pizza Hut, Papa John’s dynamic. I know there are some flawed issues with that comparison, mainly method of distribution but I think there is enough to make it work. Where I strongly disagree with Evan is that if there is a war, the commercial was not the start of it. If there is a “war” it has been going on long before Sunday, February 1.


The Foaming Head said...

As for the hypocrite angle, that point was not directed towards the person who occasionally spends money at retail locations of major corporations. That was directed at the people who slam Bud/Miller every time they open their mouth and shop at the stores of large corporations every day. I may be in a different crowd of craft beer folks than Evan and Chad (it is a big community) but I know a large number of those people. I stop at Wendy’s and Wal-Mart a few times a year. I try not to, but there is nothing wrong with the occasional purchase. The difference is I don’t slam large corporations. You can’t be eco- and local-friendly in only one industry.

The last point I want to address is the one area I completely agree with Evan. He cites the many comments he gets that are along the lines of “macro drinkers don’t drink craft and vice versa” (I am paraphrasing). I have seen and heard this argument many times as well and agree with Evan that it is just not factually correct. Obviously, the NASCAR fan bringing a 30 pack of Bud Light to a race is not switching over. That is a given. There are people like my father who drank macro his whole life strictly because there were few if any other options available. He is now an unabashed hop head who avoids macro beers like the plague. There is a large number of 40-60 year olds just like him who drank macro their whole life but are flocking to flavorful beer. I am also at the age where many of my friends are “growing up”. They have jobs, have bought houses and are starting familiar. They drank macro in college because it is cheap but their tastes and budgets have changed and are now making the switch to craft. Budweiser is losing loyal customers. Evan is right when he refers to these customers as a zero sum game. The commercial was designed to hold onto these customers.

Where we disagree is what happens when these customers begin to think about trying something new. Evan argues that the Budweiser commercial will deter them by painting the craft beer community as a bunch of geeks who make way too big of a deal about drinking beer. His Palate Press article has a quote from The Beer Babe: “It might make a consumer.....a little shy of going to a trendy gastropub”. Maybe, maybe not. I think the pretentious attitude of craft beer snobs is much more damaging to that potential new customer.

Thrillist just wrote an article titled “The 19 Types of Beer Snobs”. I am sure it was done in jest and I got a good laugh out of it. At the very top was a picture of a bearded man inspecting his beer in a snifter. Sound familiar? Where was the outrage? The Twitter campaign against Thrillist? Here is the dirty secret: some of these stereotypes are true.

People are hesitant to try new things. Don’t insult their past choices. If I am trying to introduce the guy sitting next to me at the bar to craft beer, he isn’t going to appreciate me insulting his drink of choice for the last 5 years. I am insulting him. Ask for a small glass and pour him a 2 ounce sample of yours. That will make you a much better advocate than saying “I don’t drink fizzy yellow stuff”.

You want to help promote craft beer? You want to help bring great flavored beer to the masses? Let’s do it. I am right there with you. Let’s just do it the right way. Budweiser’s commercial has far less power that craft beer advocates do. No macro drinker remembers that commercial. Only offended craft beer fans do. This is why I was so upset with the general reaction, and didn’t want to write the article. It wasn’t a big deal. We made it one. Craft beer advocates have 10x the power in swaying a drinker than that commercial. Act like a jerk and they are staying with macro. Advocate properly and they will switch over.

Evan Dawson said...

I appreciate the response, and I think we're seeing different parts of the community react. For example, Rochester is a huge craft beer town. Most of the craft beer community in Rochester reacted with a shrug. They basically said, "Meh." I was looking for more outrage, in fact. But I didn't see the craft beer community's reaction as monolithic - not at all.

I think it's fair to say that if there's a war, it's been going on long before Sunday. It happens when large corporations leverage their power to make their job easier (tax breaks, etc) and make life harder for the small guy (legislation that is intentionally designed as anti-competitive, making it harder for small guys to compete). So sure, that's been happening. But Sunday was the first time that Bud (and their parent company) looked at America and said, "You don't want to drink craft beer. That's for poseurs and assholes." That is a shot fired, as it were. If it's a zero sum game, I'm simply saying that it's unwise for craft beer to pretend there's not a fight going on. Craft beer has been gaining. Budweiser is trying to change the game. It's like a second half adjustment; when one team adjusts, and the other team doesn't, the losing team can make a comeback.

Budweiser should be recognized for their remarkable consistency. They are rock-solid in that regard. I salute them. And certainly, some craft beers suck, and don't deserve love just for being "small."

But I hear this refrain -- that the biggest damage is being caused by the hipsters, etc -- and I hear it in coffee and wine, too. However, when I look closely, I see very few hipsters who are caricatured that way. Most people are welcoming and open and happy to help newcomers. I think the idea that hipsters are hurting the most is essentially a straw man, but we might be experiencing different crowds, places, etc.

Chad9976 said...

Evan, what's your website, twitter, etc?

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