During last year’s Super Bowl, I fully intended to simply enjoy myself and not feel compelled to spring into action writing snarky pieces of pop culture commentary or beer commercial analysis. And then Anheuser’s “Brewed the Hard Way” commercial for Budweiser happened.
It was, in short, an abominable ad, but also a fascinating one because it was the first time that Anheuser had ever really gone after craft beer aggressively on a national stage. Before that point, the beer giant’s response to the ever-growing market share of craft beer was always to ignore its competition—to act as if craft was beneath its attention by essentially pretending it didn’t exist. 2015’s Super Bowl was a watershed moment, then—the world’s biggest beer company tacitly admitting the threat of craft by committing to an ad campaign that actively shit-talked the likes of “pumpkin peach ale,” even as they hypocritically bought out new craft breweries producing that exact product. The craft beer community’s reaction was visceral, and the analysis I wrote ended up going viral.
That was 2015. Now, in 2016, Anheuser is back with part two—a sequel of sorts to “Brewed the Hard Way” that uses the tagline “Not Backing Down.” It’s not quite as overt in its attack on craft, but it’s just as galling, misleading and hypocritical. Go ahead and watch it below.
Like last year, let’s go through every bit one at a time, shall we?
Let us make something clear to you. The Clydesdales are MEN’S HORSES FOR FULL-GROWN MEN WHO DRINK BUDWEISER AND WE DON’T NEED ANY OF YOUR GIRLY SMALLER-THAN-AVERAGE HORSE SHIT BECAUSE WE ARE MEN DAMNIT.
NOT A HOBBY
Craft beer is simply an extension of homebrewing, and as homebrewing would be considered a hobby, clearly craft beer is a hobby as well—just try to oppose that inarguable logic!
Sure, that hobby now includes more than 3,500 craft breweries, and sure, their stake in the market has risen from 3% to 12% or more in the last decade, but is that really enough to qualify as a trend? I mean, the craft beer market only grew 18% by volume last year, while Anheuser’s U.S. sales declined for the third time in four years. I’m going to need to see some CONCRETE data before I can give these little hobby breweries the benefit of the doubt.
“We’re big! Not as big as we were last year, or the year before that, but still pretty big, relatively speaking! And nothing says “cool” quite like an international corporation whose core constituency is slowly dying off each and every year! And yeah, we’re simultaneously proclaiming our bigness while buying up small breweries coast-to-cast because they have a legitimacy we can’t match, but it’s still cool to be big, in a way we’re totally unable to quantify.”
“Our beer doesn’t really taste like much, so it’s best if you just sort of spray it into the air like these people and hope that someone shoots some down your throat. Never fear—we’re working on an intravenous delivery system that will totally remove the unfortunate necessity of accidentally having the beer come in contact with your taste buds.”
“Our beer is hard. Hard to enjoy, hard to stomach, hard to rationalize, hard to fathom. Craft beer is soft. If you drink craft beer you’re a pussy—unless it’s from one of the breweries we bought out this year, in which case it’s great, and not threatening to your masculinity at all!”
“Budweiser is proudly American. The only thing we’ve imported is our Brazilian and Belgian ownership. Please continue to funnel your dollars to the corporate headquarters in Leuven, Belgium instead of your local craft brewery down the street.”
NOT A FRUIT CUP
“Fruity beer is for losers. NOW GO ENJOY A BUD LIGHT LIME! OR OUR NEW BUD LIGHT APPLE! Don’t worry, neither of them have any actual fruit in them.”
I’m honestly not entirely sure what this one means. I think it means that they’re “not following anyone” and sticking to the good ‘ole fashioned ways? And there’s nothing more old-fashioned than artificially flavored novelty pretzel beer and buying up one’s competitors.
NOT FOR EVERYONE
Can’t argue this one.
10 years ago, this Budweiser (that’s Bud Heavy, not Bud Light) brand made up 14.4% of the U.S. beer market. Today it’s 7.5%.
“Budweiser: Not for everyone.” Can that just be the new company slogan from now on? It’s more accurate every single year!
Of course, it’s also possible that they’re simply referring to the fact that a Budweiser at the Super Bowl costs a mind-blowing $13-15 this year when they say “not for everyone.”
To counter the half-dozen people in the comments who will feel brilliant for pointing out “You’re not the market for this ad!”, let’s discuss who that market is really supposed to be.
The image this ad evokes for the company as a whole is a schizophrenic one, a multinational corporation that is awkwardly torn between simultaneous desires to retain its aged core demographic and somehow court a younger, hipper one. The reality of the situation is that the man petulantly flicking away the lemon on his beer is the one who most accurately represents the real drinker of Budweiser—and remember that we’re talking about Bud Heavy here, not Bud Light. And when you think about it, what’s the point of even advertising to this man? He’s been drinking Budweiser for decades already, and doesn’t need an ad to reconfirm his opinions on “that there pansy craft beer” for the 1,000th time. If anything, the ad seems structured toward retaining that drinker just in case he’s thinking of finally trying something new. And how sad is that? It’s the equivalent of McDonalds putting out an ad with a grizzled old man angrily eating a hamburger, with the tagline “Please, for the love of god, don’t leave us” while a crowd of young kids happily blend healthy smoothies next door.
Which brings us to that “#NotBackingDown” tagline. We know, given the fact that a 60-second Super Bowl commercial costs about $10 million in 2016, that wording is chosen very, very carefully. So why #NotBackingDown? Why would the industry leader, the largest beer company on the face of the Earth, launch what sounds like such a defensive slogan during its biggest public day of the year?
Craft beer, once again, is obviously the answer. It’s an odd tactic, though—why admit right to your customer base that your competitors are putting so much pressure on you that it becomes necessary to affirm that you’re not backing down? Why make a commercial with the obvious implication that you’re so afraid of craft beer?
The answer to that, presumably, is Anheuser is so neurotic that they’re trying to rebuild the ego of their own drinkers. They picture a loyal Budweiser drinker and see a person who, in 2016, feels incredibly lame about the fact that they drink Budweiser. They see this person and feel that he needs to see a $10 million ad in order to feel like it’s okay to continue drinking Budweiser. And the funny thing is, it is okay to drink a Budweiser, if that’s what you like—but it’s sure as hell not cool, and it’s never going to be again. Because it’s painfully uncool to spend $10 million on an ad designed to make your customers react like Seymour Skinner.
It’s not the children who are wrong, Anheuser. Trust us on that.
Next year’s hashtag—”Budweiser: #GoingDownWithTheShip”
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he was sipping some very “soft” local IPA while writing this. You can follow him on Twitter.