During the third quarter of Sunday night's Super Bowl, Budweiser aired a commercial.
It did not go over well with the craft beer community.
"Wow, impressive anti-craft commercial by the Bud. If you can't join them, beat them?"
"I believe that last Super Bowl commercial was Bud declaring war against craft beer. Ironic as they keep acquiring craft beer breweries."
"Not sure straight shitting on the demographic that is rapidly growing and destroying your margin is a strong business decision."
"Brewed the hard way, with machines and automated systems. Brewed with old wood chips. Brewed in enormous batches in nameless faceless brewing facilities. Brewed by a company that kills companies because it won't do things the hard way. They won't innovate. They won't collaborate. They annihilate."
"Tonight, Budweiser managed to piss off a whole generation of people who were mostly OK with them as a benign corporation making a crappy product that has its place. This will go down as a monumental mistake in advertising history."
"Um Budweiser you can go f*ck yourself! Clearly a desperate move with that commercial!"
This is a small selection of the outrage the commercial created, and for any fan of craft beer it's easy to see why they're upset. "Proudly a macro beer"? "Brewed for drinking, not dissecting"? "Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale"? It would be difficult not to infer combativeness from the commercial's text alone, but the images seal it. The man "fussing over" his beer in a tulip has an impressive handlebar mustache. The three dudes "dissecting" their flight of brews are sporting plaid shirts, hipster glasses and a trifecta of neckbeards. The ad hits every beer nerd stereotype.
But no hard feelings were meant, according to Brian Perkins, Budweiser's vice president of marketing.
"It's a bold, proud statement of what Budweiser is, rather than an attack on competition," Perkins says. "It's an unpretentious beer for those who know beer."
In carrying out research for this new campaign, Perkins says, the ad men at Budweiser found that there's some degree of frustration among drinkers about preposterous flavor combinations and the people who obsess over them.
"There's a small corner of the beer landscape that looks down on overwrought, pretentious beer snobbery," he says. "That's a side of beer no one likes, and that's the antithesis of what Budweiser's all about."
Fair points both -- beer snobs kill everyone's buzz, and Budweiser certainly has never been about snobbishness or pretentiousness, though it engenders much of both.
But it must also be remembered that Budweiser is owned and operated by a larger conglomerate, Anheuser-Busch InBev, which has made a habit the past few years of purchasing the very craft breweries the commercial seems to deride. Last week, in fact, AB InBev bought Elysian Brewing Co., which not only brews beers meant to be dissected, but actually makes a pumpkin peach ale.
I get what Budweiser is trying to do here. I do. The brewery's marketing for the past half-century or so has focused primarily on its lack of flavor, the good times an evening of beer-drinking can instigate or the big-titted women who'll definitely, probably be attracted to you if you crack a Budweiser in their presence. Stories of brewers, ingredients and unique processes have remained untouched, Perkins says, out of fear of boring the ad-watching public.
And the brewery has some stories it could sell! "The Budweiser yeast," Perkins says, "is something we're super proud of. It's the original culture brought over from Europe." The beechwood-aging process mentioned in the advertisement above, too, is unique to Budweiser, though its effect on the finished product is probably different than what you'd imagine. The brewery makes use of beechwood in the form of "chips," spiral-shaped strips of the wood cut three millimeters thick and about 18 inches long. Before their use in the brewing process, the strips are boiled in sodium bicarbonate, which removes any flavor or color they might impart to the beverage. They're then added to the fermentation vessel, where they act as a welcome homestead upon which yeast can settle. This increases the surface area of yeast exposed to beer as it's circulating in the fermentation tank, which can have benefits such as a decrease in fermentation time and better removal of certain yeast-derived off-flavors.
Budweiser eschewed a focus on these aspects of their product, however, and decided to take potshots at the craft segment, eliciting a near-universal negative response from craft beer drinkers.
Perkins says the "Brewed the Hard Way" campaign, which will color all of Budweiser's advertising for the next three months, is "more about what Budweiser is than antagonism."
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"One of the great things about beer is the amount of passion involved," he says. "Some people will react negatively, for sure. We believe the tone is positive. It's much more about arming our advocates with facts and pride and emotional feelings."
Emphasis mine. Arming our advocates? Perhaps we do actually have a war on our hands, beer nerds. Lock and load.