Carla Jean Lauter

The Beer Babe

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Why the pro-macro beer Budweiser ad is so dangerous

On the night of the Superbowl, there are lots of surprises. Long-forgotten rappers from the 1990s and people dancing in hilarious fake shark suits make guest appearances during the halftime show. There are miraculous catches, and near-misses. And then last night, there was this:

The above ad is by far the most clear and definitive anti-craft beer advertisement I’ve ever seen – and it was aired during the Superbowl to an audience of millions. While you may have had the same visceral reaction I did, here’s what makes the ad both so effective and so threatening to craft beer. First, it’s the first time that instead of changing the conversation with horses and puppies, it’s stared directly into the camera and declared itself. These are their terms. This is Budweisers’ manifesto – and despite the details that make it hypocritical, it’s a very powerful ad, and craft brewers are going to be feeling the repercussions for a while.

“Budweiser, proudly a macro beer.”

First, we have the statement of “Budweiser, proudly a macro beer.” There’s so much just in this sentence. We’ve called Budweiser and the like “macro” beer as an opposite term to the “micro” breweries – and have used it in a derogatory sense for some time. But, much like oppressed cultures can take back words and re-claim them as their own (for instance, the term “gay” in the GLBT community has been reclaimed as a sense of pride instead of a slur). In this instance, AB-InBev seems to be similarly standing by this term. They’re saying, “We’re happy to be large, we’re happy to have shiny, big tanks that are better than yours.” The images behind the text feature the ingredients in the first few shots – some barley, some hops and then some immaculate tanks. The message here is clear – that were big and we’re proud of being big. This I expected – I wasn’t expecting the use of the term “macro” in this ad, but I was expecting that they’d be touting their history, size or something once I started to realize this was a Budweiser-centric ad.

“It’s not brewed to be fussed over.”

The statement by itself is declarative. It means that they don’t care if people are huge gushing fans or not, and that they’re proud of not caring about that. But the images tell a different story. Admittedly, here’s where my interest in this new tact from AB-Inbev turned from intrigue into anger. I think what I dislike most is that basically the last frame is a caricature – almost a parody – of a hipster male beer drinker, drinking a “fussy” dark beer. You’ve got the elements of the jock poking fun at the nerd here. Overly done glasses, twirled mustache, and smelling his beer in order to make him as far away and as much of an “other” as possible from their target demographic. The goal is to get you to think that the person in this image is ridiculous.

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And, that anyone that a) looks like that, or b) treats their beer like that must be some kind of an idiot. Also, for the locals, I think this looks incredibly like Dan Paquette of Pretty Things Beer, who recently made a stink about “pay to play” practices at bars. Intentional or not, it’s a shot across the bow to the creative types in the craft beer industry.

The challenge ahead for craft brewers: Defending your “fussy” beer, and your right to fuss over it.

“It’s brewed for a crisp smooth finish.”

Here we see the first of a few false dichotomies that are presented. The opposite of “fussy” is presented as “a crisp, smooth finish.” What the ad writers want us to think here, is that things that are straightforward are good, and things that are complex or slightly difficult to understand are bad. So “crisp” and “smooth” replace fussy, as being the good characteristics that people should look at. This is a classic advertising method in which anything complex or even slightly intelligent is brushed off as stuffy, too much work and the consumer is reassured by the fact that they “understand” the simpler product.

(As a side note, the image behind the “smooth finish” part of the video has one of my beer pouring pet peeves in it – the nozzle touching the beer during the pour. Eew.)

The challenge ahead for craft brewers: Using meaningful terms to describe your beer to consumers.

“This is the only beer Beechwood aged since 1876”

They got a lot of bang for the buck in this sentence. First, they make themselves stand out by leaving “this is the only beer” on screen over a logo-emblazoned glass – this is a subtle way of dividing up the sentence so that we remember the phrase, “Budweiser is the only beer.” Secondly, “Beechwood aged” means nothing to most people, so the fact that this is the “only beer Beechwood aged” is something that a viewer is not going to question at all. Throw in a date that’s longer than anyone watching the video has been alive and, voila – in one phrase you’ve made yourself have a history, a unique characteristic, and a believable superior quality (that no one really is going to question.)

The challenge ahead for brewers: Describing any process that you’ve been using for less than 100 years.

“There’s only one Budweiser.”

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This is a subtle re-wording of the take-home message of the previous section – stating their uniqueness, their ability to stand alone (which, subsequently also is the first time in this ad they’re actively denying the other brands in the AB-Inbev portfolio).

The challenge ahead for brewers: There are many, many more than one of you out there. You can’t be the “only one” IPA brewer, so what are you going to do to distinguish your brand?

“It’s brewed for drinking not dissecting.”

This is round two of the us-versus-them imagery presented with the first “fussy” image. Now we have three people – all male, but we’ll get to that later – that are also caricatures of hipsters, in a bar that’s decorated to look like an expensive, trendy gastropub. (Anyone catch that they misspelled “steak tartare?”).

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Again, we’re putting up a false dichotomy between “dissecting” a beer and “drinking” a beer, and this also has that slight anti-science vibe to it (probably added in there because of the recent polls about the difference between scientist opinions and public opinions on things like Global Warming and food). The message is clearly that you’re not ever supposed to think about beer, you’re just supposed to consume it. So why are you talking about your beer, you nerd? Be a good consumer and just DRINK it.

The challenge ahead for brewers: Reassuring your customers that dissecting beer is an okay – and worthwhile – pursuit. This includes questioning the quality of beer. 

“Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.”

So… you know how AB-Inbev recently purchased a brewery named Elysian? You know what they were famous for? Pioneering pumpkin beer. [Update: Apparently, they also brewed a Pumpkin Peach Ale too.]

But again, we’re seeing the ad use the same tactic as before. We’ve got a “them” here that’s treated as other. It’s now clear that the “them” is the craft beer drinker. Let those hipster idiots “fuss” over and “dissect” their beer. AB is telling you things that are reassuring to anyone remotely insecure about their masculinity. The brand says, “You’re not geeky like that. You’re not going to drink a pumpkin peach ale, are you?” Now, this brings gender back into the picture, too. I think this is also calling out the apparent non-manliness of the craft beer drinker. The above examples have been thin, white, pale, hipster like men, and have been wearing sweaters and pondering their beers in the imagery. Are they the types that would drink a disgusting-sounding pumpkin peach ale? Of course they are. The ad is whispering, “Are you the type of person that would drink a pumpkin peach ale? Of course not. Because you’re not a frou-frou geek, are you? No. You’re a man.” And if you were the type that would try a pumpkin peach ale, you’ve already been outed as “them.”

The challenge ahead for brewers: Balancing creativity with the need for the beer drinking public to be secure about what they’re drinking.

“We’ll be brewing golden suds.”

Another false dichotomy. If it isn’t a complex, outside of the box beer like stouts or fruit or pumpkin beer, the only opposite to that is “golden suds.” I think Stone Brewing company has done a nice job of chipping away at this with their “Fizzy Yellow Beer is for Wussies” campaign, but for the non-craft drinker, this can be problematic. The yellow stuff is what they’re used to. Scare them away with something non yellow and you might never get them back.

The challenge ahead for brewers: Getting people out of only gravitating towards pee-colored beer.

“The people who drink our beer…”

Contrasting the faux gastropub of the earlier bar scene, we’re now presented with a night-time scene at a busy bar filled with attractive, thirsty guys. A woman servers up Budweisers in the bottle, and it looks like a good time is going to be had by all. Here’s where you can start noticing the fact that only men are drinking in this scenario. What are the women doing? Serving beer.

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This scene is reinforcing the heterosexual, normative image of a guy’s night out, clearly reinforcing that way of life. No time to question any of what the audience of this ad already knows to be true. Men/guys drink beer for fun, and attractive women bring the beer to them, making the evening even more fun. No one is stopping to look at their beer, they’re ordering them by the handful and drinking them right up. This is the scene that Budweiser wants you to think is the only normal way to hang out with friends. And think about it – ordering trays full of beer is a great way to feel secure in your life and for a bar to sell lots of Budweiser.

The challenge ahead for brewers: Can you ever make people feel this normal and stereotypically comfortable drinking your beer?

“… are people who like to drink beer brewed the hard way.”

Notice that we’re again laying out the perfect audience? One that appreciates the hard work that goes into making a beer. But beer “brewed the hard way” is as meaningless to most consumers as the Beechwood aging is. But what this ad has done is planted the idea that somehow it is harder (and manlier) to make Budweiser as awesome as it is. And you – the consumer – are the type of red-blooded American who appreciates the hard work it took to create that beer.

The challenge ahead for brewers: People thinking that you’re somehow brewing the “easy” way. (I know, I can hear you laughing, and crying, from here).

This is the famous Budweiser beer. This Bud’s for you.

And, rounding towards the finish we had to splash in the feeling of comfort, of recognition. The font of this ad is different than other Budweiser ads. The tone is different. So the ad now needs to reassure you that yes, this is still the Budweiser you know and love. They even kept (or revived?) the “This Bud’s for you” tagline. So what’s happened here is that the ad has gone back to the beginning, touting its steadfast-ness and it’s ability to stand the test of time.

The challenge to brewers: How will your customers know that they are always getting the same quality from your brand, again and again? 

More thoughts…

Some of you might be thinking, “Well, so what?”

What I hope I’ve illustrated is that this ad has fundamentally challenged what potential craft beer consumers see as weaknesses: things are hard to understand, they’re too complex, too trendy, too unknown. This sentiment will now be reverberated throughout the macro beer drinkers and even the ones that have just tried craft. It might make a consumer just a little hesitant to order a fruit beer. A little shy of going to a trendy gastropub. And every time that happens, AB-InBev benefits, and non-macro beer suffers. I hope we can use this ad as a dialogue, as a starting point, and focus our responses towards making our own industry stronger.

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2015: The Year of the Craft Beer Growth Spurt

This year will be a year of growth – and possibly some growing pains – for Maine’s craft breweries. [Read more…]

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What NOT to get a beer geek for Christmas

Warning: I know that some of you out there have probably already purchased some of the things on this list for people that you know. You might have even gotten some of these things for me. This list is for fun – but maybe it might help you out next time. 

Everyone has one person in their life that they know a minimum amount about, but have to get a holiday gift for. Susie is really into Game of Thrones, Jack likes to ski, and [Insert relative here] is really into beer.

So, you stroll into the store or browse around online and think…

“Hmmn, I should probably get something beer-y for my [insert relative here].”

But before you pull the trigger on that item that you saw in the “Gifts for Men” section, check out this list of what to avoid.

1. Big brewery memorabilia

This comes in all shapes and sizes. Bar mirrors, koozies (more on those in a minute), bathrobes, bikinis, lighters, popcorn tins… and is all really unnecessary.

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Why not: Even if it says it’s collectable, it’s not collectable. And it probably isn’t worth anything in the long term. Basically, if you can buy it in a modern store, you’re basically paying for a piece of advertisement for a brewery the beer geek probably hates with a passion. Don’t be that guy.

If you’re not sure: If you’ve seen an advertisement for this particular brand of beer on television, it is very likely not something your craft beer geek friend is drinking. Guinness, Harp, Heineken, Stella all fall into this category along with big brothers Bud, Miller and Coors.

2. Bottle Openers

I know what you’re thinking. This may seem like the “Gifts Under $20” sweet spot you’ve been searching for but it is not. Especially not the novelty ones that say things or burp when you use them, the gimmicky ones that open in odd ways but will probably break in a few days.

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Why not: Most of the time, beer geeks have more than enough ways to open beer, and they’ve found their favorite few openers and are sticking with those. I have a drawer full of openers (come to think of it, I should really thin those out…) and would not mind stopping that involuntary collection from growing.

A few exceptions: Is it made by a local craftsman or is otherwise artistically unique? Then it may be exempt and appreciated. Is it from someplace you’ve traveled that the giftee has not been to – as in, you went to Fiji and brought back a bottle opener from the amazing bar you found there? Then that’s fine, too, because it’s a lot more thought than the endcap at Kohl’s where they sell “man gifts.”

3. Beer-scented things

Beer tastes great. Breweries smell wonderful. So it follows that things that have many different flavors and scents would follow. But, it’s a trap.

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Why not: Somehow, the miracles of flavor and taste science just have not perfected that faux beer smell and unfortunately they are often based on the most generic “beery” smell possible. Especially in candles. If you don’t see actual pieces of hops and/or grains in the candle, run. If you smell it and it reminds you of your college years, the morning after a frat party, trust me – that’s not the smell we’re looking for.

A few exceptions: Kind of like the bottle opener rule – if these are made at your brewery or with actual hop oils and things and it actually smells good to you, then you’ve found the jackpot. Anything else? Imitation beer crap. Eew.

4. Coozies / Koozies

A foam thingy that keeps the beer that you’re drinking cold when you’re holding it for a long period of time in presumably hot weather. No. And no, it doesn’t matter if it says something funny on the side. The five I’m not using all have funny sayings, too.

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Why not: First of all, it’s a “unitasker” as Alton Brown would say. And who seriously takes a beer out of the fridge, takes the time to put it in a coozie and then drinks it straight from the can? It’s not big enough for fashionable tallboy cans, and frankly, most of us are not drinking straight from cans while standing outside in our driveways for long periods of time. Also, it’s just one more drinking “accessory” that no one really needs.

Exceptions: None. No, not even the zip-up-ones for bottles. Or the ones that attach to your hands. Or whatever this is.

5. Anything bragging about being drunk

You’ve seen these probably on t-shirts in stores at the mall, or written on things like coozies or bottle openers. These posters and slogans were fun in college, when drinking alcohol was a means to the end of getting to a state of drunken stupor.

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Why not: Beer geeks are more mature than you’d think. Most craft beer geeks that I know drink a lot of beer – but they’re doing it because they genuinely like beer. Most are embarrassed to be caught drunk off their ass, and the last thing they’re going to wear or put on their fridge is something talking about how trashed they are. Plus, borderline alcoholism just stops being quite as funny after you pass 25 years old or so.

If you’re not sure: Ask yourself: is the point of this joke / slogan about getting drunk? If so, skip it. If it’s about geeky beer things, then it might slide but in general, it’s best to steer clear if you’re not sure.

6. Pint glasses

I’m talking about the ones that are just plain old regular beer glasses and usually, again, have a brewery logo (for some reason Guinness makes a MILLION different kinds of these) or say something funny.

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Why not: Any beer geek is going to already have an unmanageable mass of these glasses. They give them out at beer releases, sometimes at festivals, and many a relative have thought that beer drinkers should like glasses to drink beer out of. But similar to the bottle opener example, seriously, we’re all set. We love beer. We’ve made sure we have vessels to drink it in. Many even buy special different glasses that are better for drinking beer out of already.

A few exceptions: If you got it on a trip to somewhere exotic, or traveled to what is actually the giftee’s favorite brewery, then you’re in the clear. But most of the time I just think about how little cabinet space I have and about how those poor glasses in the back must be so lonely.

Some general guidelines

  • Be on the lookout for tacky things
  • Steer clear of “drunk” references
  • Anything flavored or scented generically as “beer” is scary
  • Meaningful details and hand-made or well-crafted items in these categories are fine

Thankfully, many other beer writers have written great posts this year about what you *should* buy the beer geek in your life. If you have a favorite list, feel free to share it in the comments and I’ll post it in the footnote of this post.

Best of luck – cheers!


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