Our outrage has a very short memory. Anheuser-Busch has never connected with craft beer drinkers. It was their stubborn ignorance that created opportunities for the Fritz Maytags, Ken Grossmans and Kim Jordans of the world. So why is everyone so angry that Budweiser finally confronted beer nerds head on? This ad was clearly constructed to get our attention and proclaim what their actions and marketing have been hinting at for years; "This Bud is not for you!"
Yes, I am sure you already knew that…so why the outrage? Is it because AB InBev seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth; trashing beer nerds while buying up their beloved craft breweries left and right? If that's the problem, then you need to think about the fact that Budweiser is just one of over 200 brands in their expansive portfolio. Sure, it is the largest, but they were not communicating as AB InBev, they were communicating as Budweiser. Bud broadcasted a message designed to resonate with their target market -- the folks who already view craft beer drinkers as fussy snobs. Bud wrote us off years ago, they are just making sure their fans continue to do the same.
Brands are not just logos and labels, they are a series of values and principles
So again I ask, why the outrage? This is just a giant corporation acting like a giant corporation. Consider Unilever; their Dove ads celebrate women's beauty in all shapes and sizes while their Axe brand trots out a bevy of hypersexual, scantily clad models sporting the very "unrealistic" or "unhealthy" body shapes Dove campaigns against. Unilever gets to say Dove is about healthy body image and Axe is about sexiness. It's dishonest because those principals, such as they are, obviously do not run deep. To big corporations, brands are just shorthand for an idea that needn't be grounded in reality.
Ultimately, it comes down to authenticity: being who you say you are. Buying other craft brands is a not an attempt to win craft drinkers to their camp, it's an attempt to cover the downside. AB InBev keeps losing market share to these guys so they might as well get a piece of the action -- kind of like a fossil fuel company buying up solar businesses, just in case clean energy turns out to be a winning strategy. AB InBev (and fossil fuel companies) cannot solve the authenticity problem. They continue to believe brand equity is transferable without loyalty to the underlying principles. Brands are not just logos and labels, they are a series of values and principles. Modern consumers align themselves with the brands that care about the same things that they do. There is no quicker way to disrupt that trust and loyalty than to sell to someone with the polar opposite values.
Part of me wishes these brands, who have been robbed of their soul, would wither and die. But I know most people simply succumb to convenience. Unilever's deception does not bother me enough to change my buying habits. I imagine there will always be a group of beer drinkers who feel the same way about AB InBev. But we can't let them hijack the narrative -- it's not about being fussy, it's about being discerning. Craft beer is spreading because they tell authentic stories and live out their principles. It takes more than trotting out a team of Clydesdales to build loyalty. We buy beer from breweries that share our principles and our priorities. You can't buy or fake that.