Recently AB InBev, the owners of Budweiser ran a rather controversial but I would say spot on ad during the SuperBowl. (See it here) The ad has stirred up a lot of controversy with the craft brewers and beer aficionados crying foul and Budweiser’s competitors wrapping themselves in the flag of righteousness saying they would never run such an ad. As a result the ad appears to have been discontinued by Budweiser, no doubt the result of all the social media and press pressure.
This to me is a tactical error on the part of Budweiser and if I was running the brand I would be running this ad on an on-going basis. Why? Budweiser has been losing share and volume mostly to craft beers in a number of markets around the world. One of the apparent reasons is criticism from craft brewers and their supporters that Budweiser is not a “real” beer. This criticism has apparently started to resonate with the Budweiser consumer who are buying into this notion. Budweiser therefore needs to change the situation with their consumer group.
The situation Budweiser is facing reminds me a little of the problem we faced when I worked for Coca-Cola in Canada at the height of the Pepsi Challenge. Like Budweiser, Coke was looking at share declines in light of the onslaught of the Pepsi Challenge. In response we developed and ran ads that mocked the basic premise of the challenge and those who won by picking Pepsi.
However share continued to decline and so we began to dig deeper. We looked at consumer image scores and discovered the problem wasn’t that Pepsi’s image was improving with the Challenge but in fact the Coke image was declining with our consumers. Our core consumers had begun questioning if they were making the right choice. We found the answer to the problem lay not in attacking the Pepsi Challenge but rather reinforcing with our consumers all the reasons why they should chose Coke. In fact we found the best answer was in an ad campaign we had recently abandoned – “It’s the Real Thing!”
The lesson here is know who your core consumers are and focus your appeal on them not on some group outside the target group. Budweiser are never going to convince craft beer advocates that they are “real” beer, nor should that be their objective. What they need to do, and have done well in this ad, is provide affirmation/reassurance to their core group that they are a real beer, for real beer occasions, for real people like themselves. Craft advocates may not like their depiction in the ad but I am sure it resonates with the Budweiser consumer and that is what counts.
In short Budweiser, man up and ignore the critics by continuing to run this ad. You are going in the right direction for your target group so ignore the critics who are never going to be part of your target group.