The Now Annual Craft Beer Super Bowl Ad Controversy

For the second year in a row, the loudest fan base during the Super Bowl did not represent the Seattle Seahawks…

Craft beer fanatics across the U.S. erupted on twitter following this Budweiser ad just like last year when Chrysler scripted Dylan to deliver the now forgotten “Let Germany Brew Your Beer” line. This year’s of course was a bit more of a direct hit in the beer world as Budweiser’s ad campaign was the first real attempt by one of the big guns to re-claim their macro designation as a positive. By now, we all know the history of the evolving beer industry where U.S. Craft Micro Breweries have exploded over the past few decades. The term “micro” has developed into a calling card for many who believe that mass production is the enemy to authenticity. This perspective was clearly under attack in Budweiser’s depiction that those who “fuss” over their beers in beards may be missing the point all together. Budweiser had to know this was coming (and probably a part of their plan) because lord knows by now, you just don’t fuck with the hipsters and their craft beer (and beards)!

Just like last year however, I’m kind of shocked by everyone’s reaction. First off, much of the backlash has come from craft beer lovers pointing out the hypocrisy in the ad, being that A-B InBev has been buying up craft beer brands left and right over the past few years (Goose Island, Blue Point, and most recently Elysian as examples). But this ad wasn’t about A-B InBev. This ad was about one of the highest volume beers in their portfolio that happens to be widely loved across a huge portion of the country for it’s price point and simplicity. I’m all for A-B InBev positioning their portfolio options as distinct because I’d hate to buy up a bunch of successful craft operations and let the “stink” of big business ruin those beers for their loyal consumers. You want to position Budweiser as the anti-craft beer? Sounds fine to me considering those gobbling up either side of the argument in barrels probably don’t give a shit about what the other side is doing anyway.

All that being said, and even though I think the overall message got the reaction it was hoping for, someone should probably lose their job since the only specific reference to a craft beer (“Let them sip Pumpkin Peach Ale”) in the ad was actually a part of their new acquisition Elysian’s small batch beers, the Gourdia on My Mind. Even worse is the fact that as you can see in AdAge’s Post, Bud’s VP of Marketing, Brian Perkins, has since come out in defense of the ad saying “The only other beer that we reference in the spot is a fabricated, ludicrous flavor combination of pumpkin peach ale.” Yikes…

So what do we do with all this non-sense? Well for starters, and I’ve written about this before, we craft beer lovers better get used to this. There is this often forgotten but simple reality of business that has led us here: You can’t stay small if you want to grow. The story of Elysian’s purchase by A-B InBev is actually depressing to read. Depressing in that for years three founders struggled to build Elysian into what we know it today with ‘four brewpub locations scattered throughout Seattle, a production brewery capable of being scaled to 100,000-plus barrels and a wholesale business that would grow to nearly 54,000 barrels in 2014′ (per BrewHound post linked above). They’ve managed to create distribution into 11 states with that capacity but frankly had hit the limit on their own. In order to take the next step, to grow beyond what they had become, they needed capital.

What followed this realization was another realization. There was plenty of private equity willing to jump in on Elysian’s growth plans but turns out capital investments from private equity firms come with profit return expectations the team felt would counter their plans for the brand expansion. So while selling to A-B InBev felt like the ultimate sell-out to at least one of their founders, the different pace of growth expectations along with the infrastructure and expertise to support a full U.S. expansion made them the eventual winner.

Let’s get back to reality here for a second though and not rush out to console the founders. For fuck sake, they just sold their micro brewery business to A-B InBev for barrels of cash. And yes, it’s sad that the force they built their brand against now holds their eventual fate, but this is the way shit works. And if that means more lunatic, beard toting hipsters can drink Elysian in places they currently can’t, maybe things worked out pretty okay after all..

As for the Super Bowl controversy, we know this will all blow over as we all get back to our daily beer drinking and forget we even gave a shit. Some will be drinking the biggest macro beer on the planet while others may be drinking the latest creative creation from their favorite craft producer but at the end of the day we’re all drinking beer…so everyone calm the fuck down and enjoy it!

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2 thoughts on “The Now Annual Craft Beer Super Bowl Ad Controversy

  1. Nail on head, Ricky!

    Would we expect Bud Light not to tout their “lighter” beer just because Budweiser is a traditionally heavy beer – “Bud Heavy” Hell no. You’ve got a portfolio of brands and some times, unfortunately, those brands will compete. That’s life!

    There is something interesting I’ve been hearing about those smaller acquisitions AB InBev has been making. Apparently, with 10 Barrel at least, they’ve been able to add jobs to the company and not cut any. Who knows if that is true, but it appears at the least that they truly do value what the independent guys have been able to build and aren’t coming in guns blazing like they are the experts.

    In the end, what really matters? That doofus beer jerks like us can get our grubby hands on some O.G IPA without having to book a trip to the Pacific Northwest!

    PS: The comments here are amazing.

    Craft beer nerds are the worst. WE ARE THE WORST!

  2. In his excellent book “Tasting Beer”, Randy Mosher explores some of the marketing claims of the big brewers. About Bud’s beechwood aging he says:

    “At one time, most American breweries aged their lager in “chip tanks” with a pile of wooden slats in the bottom. These are stripped of any wood character before going into the tanks and do not impart any wood flavor to the beer. Their real purpose is to provide additional surface area for the yeast to settle on and this may have benefits for the conditioning of the beer. Anheuser-Busch has found it is worth the considerable trouble for their yeast and their beers, but few breweries feel the same these days. Verdict: Nice nod to tradition, but not what it sounds like.”

    So it sounds like beechwood aging is not total bullshit, and may actually be bleeding over to the craft tradition of going out of your way to make a better product, but also is total marketing mumbo-jumbo because no one is going to understand what beechwood aging means.

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