In the last couple days you may have seen or heard about the new piece of “viral marketing” from Anheuser Busch drifting around. I didn’t really intend to get drawn into it, but you know me—I can’t resist debating the truthiness or meaning behind a Budweiser ad, especially when there’s a legitimate bone to pick. In this case, I was planning on just letting it go by until I read a few of the reactions to the ad that I particularly disagreed with.
First, let’s simply watch the ad. It’s a classic format—bring the product to a location with supposedly “harsh judges,” in this case Brooklyn beer hipsters. Don’t tell people what the product is. Watch the praise roll in. In conception, it’s a style of ad that’s been done a million times before—’ala “Do you realize you’re drinking Colombian decaffeinated coffee crystals?!?”
The first place I saw this video was in the following two recaps by Ad Age and by Adweek, respectively. But after reading their description, I immediately found myself in disagreement.
According to Ad Age, “they [the drinkers] loved it!” Adweek, meanwhile, says the people in the commercial “raved about it.” I’m not entirely sure what they were watching, because what I saw was an extremely weak endorsement that immediately begged the question, “Wow, were those really the most positive reactions you could manage?” If those were really the best, what did the rest look like?
Let’s get something straight: In the vernacular of a craft beer geek, “light,” “crisp,” “reliable beer” and “This would be great on like a 100-degree day” are not what one would call glowing praise. And you know what? Both of those terms are completely accurate for Budweiser—I’d describe it exactly that way myself. But does that equate to those drinkers “loving and raving” about the Bud they were served for free by a friendly bartender? Hell no. Most people, handed a free drink by a bartender and asked how it is, would I daresay be even more complimentary no matter what was in their glass.
Guess when people want to drink beer that would be great on a 100-degree day: When it’s 100 degrees out. Guess how many days a year it’s 100 degrees out in most parts of this country—a couple? In Brooklyn, where this thing is shot, the highest average monthly temperature is 85 degrees in July. Alternate Budweiser slogan: “It’s the beer that’s perfect to drink on one day in July and maybe again once in August!” I could get behind that. I love the shill behind the bar’s reaction to that line: “Exactly!” Yeah! 100 degrees, sure, we’ll take it! Honestly, the single strongest word of endorsement in the entire commercial comes from a seemingly intoxicated young woman who slurs “I like it.” That’s the best one. “I like it.” Not even one person saying “I’m gonna drink some more Budweiser.” Trust me: Send me into the same bar with a hidden camera and some cans of Cigar City Jai Alai and I’ll get you videos of people experiencing a religious craft beer conversion, eyes rolling back in their heads and speaking in tongues.
Which leads us to another obvious realization: These people in the bar are being presented to us as beer geeks, but they’re clearly not particularly knowledgeable or well-versed in the subject. Anheuser Busch wants to be able to point a finger and have a few chuckles by saying “Oh, you vaunted beer geeks, you don’t even know what you’re drinking,” but if you’re going to do that you might want to at least stay consistent. You’ve got the bartender up there saying that they’re drinking something beechwood-aged, and guess what—beer geeks are fully aware that’s Budweiser’s marketing copy. He might as well be saying “Comes in a red and white can? Big eagle on there? King of Beers? Delivered via Clydesdales? It’s not for fussing over? Ring any bells?”
And indeed, it’s the guy behind the bar who is the key to this whole ad, and it’s his job to disseminate the marketing copy in as carefully worded and covert a way as possible. Let’s analyze the subtext of a few of his lines, one at a time.
“It’s not too heavy. Fast finish.”
“It doesn’t taste like much, but don’t worry, because you’ll stop tasting it quickly.”
“This is the beer-drinker’s beer—you like beer?”
There’s something really duplicitous about this line in particular—he’s both shaping her expectation and conditioning her toward the right response while telling her what the “wrong” response would be. First he tells her that real beer-drinkers unanimously love this beer (really objective taste-test there), then he immediately asks her if she’s a beer lover. When she answers in the affirmative, she’s pretty much made a tacit promise to approve of the beer. It’s the “beer-drinker’s beer,” after all—and she’s a “beer drinker.” Therefore, it’s her beer. A beer-drinker can’t be indifferent to the beer-drinker’s beer! What kind of absurd universe would allow that to be so?!?
“139-year-old recipe, American tradition, aged in beechwood.”
The response of any beer geek I know to this information would have been: “Oh, so … it’s Budweiser, then?”
“If you are a beer drinker, you will appreciate this.”
Once again, it leaves no room for error or opinion. That sentence is an equation: If A, then B. If you somehow DIDN’T appreciate this, then you’re clearly not a beer drinker. HOW DID YOU GET IN THIS BAR?
It’s simply difficult for me to be impressed by the results, which Anheuser seems to think were a big success. Has the bar simply been lowered so much by their Super Bowl ads that any commercial not actively insulting the companies they now own is considered a positive? Is it all just a matter of perspective? Are a round of handshakes in order any time a torch and pitchfork-wielding mob doesn’t show up on the brewery lawn after a new commercial airs?
It just seems like they’re setting the bar a little bit low. When you’re the biggest beer company in the country, with all the resources in the world, one would think you could forcibly engineer results a little bit more passionate than “This would be great when it’s 100 degrees out!” People already mock your beer for being a replacement for water—and your response is to have a fake bartender say “Exactly!” Alright. If you say so.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor and resident Budweiser commercial critiquer, apparently. He’s not entirely sure how he walked into that role. You can follow him on Twitter.