Monday, 16 May 2016

SAINTS PRESERVE US

America Is Swill

Like economics, advertising (influence) and marketing (sales) are not exact sciences. The dollar value of a particular brand, its name, its wordmark or logo, and its built-in historic equity, is thought to be worth some ten-to 20-per-cent of the revenue it generates on behalf of its stakeholder(s). A brand is essentially an abstract asset, something organic, something that has evolved. Yet more often than not its managers and advertising agency partners will ham-handedly attempt to project their own fantasy characteristics upon their brand, ones they believe consumers should want to share and pay for; sort of manipulating the cart before the Clydesdales, if you will.

The Beaverton is an amusing Canadian news parody website. It recently ran a story accusing our Tim Hortons coffee shop chain (now a foreign owned sister brand of Burger King) of exploiting Canadian nationalism and Canadians’ hockey passion for strictly commercial purposes. Any pretense of satire was lost by The Beaverton simply repeating the hooks of an orchestrated and emotionally-tinged, long term and well executed corporate advertising strategy. The piece read like an overly earnest university newspaper pseudo expose or one those left wing diatribes you come across in the complimentary vestibule weeklies you flip through whilst sitting alone in a dark bar in the afternoon. It’s too easy to sprinkle maple sugar on donut holes in a takeout box: ain’t nothing funny; ain’t no news here.

The Onion, the American equivalent to Beaverton, did not last week report that Budweiser beer was re-branding itself as America beer from now until November. My source was Adweek, a reputable advertising industry journal. Still, I glanced at my Elvis Presley desktop calendar to make sure its pages had moved far beyond the April fools. I thought, Jesus, this isn’t some lame joke; this is not a misguided attempt at satire.

Budweiser is an Anheuser-Busch brand of lager beer, first brewed in the United States in 1876. The brand is now the property of AB InBev, headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. AB InBev services one-quarter of the planet’s beer market. AB InBev is a corporate octopus, the spawn of mergers amongst Belgium’s Interbrew, Brazil’s AmBev and America’s Anheuser-Busch. Ricardo Marques, Vice President of Budweiser said in a statement, ‘Budweiser has always strived to embody America in a bottle, and we’re honored to salute this great nation where our beer has been passionately brewed for 140 years.’ The campaign’s slogan is ‘America is in Your Hands,’ stray caps and all.

Nostalgic nags aside, Budweiser has always hitched its brand to sports. It’s common for a brand to alter its packaging to commemorate a major sporting event for which it has paid sponsorship rights, or celebrate its own heritage with an anniversary retro look. In this case Budweiser is taking the opposite tack, relying on its classic and easily recognized packaging to alleviate any consumer confusion over its temporary name change to America. The rationale for America lager is, to quote Marques, ‘…celebrate America and Budweiser’s shared values of freedom and authenticity.’ Rio 2016 is just around the corner. ‘We are embarking on what should be the most patriotic summer that this generation has ever seen…’ And sales are declining, swallowed by micro-brewers and vintners.

Bud Light rivals Diet Coke as the absolute apex of a successful brand extension. Their shared subliminal message was deviously simple: Drink more! Bud Light launched its politically themed, tongue in cheek Bud Light Party campaign during last February’s Super Bowl. Budweiser’s, erm, America’s ‘America is in Your Hands’ seems to be a more sober attempt orchestrated from Europe to seek some common ground in a New World country deeply riven by partisanship. The duration of the ad campaign aligns with what could be the grimmest and most divisive presidential campaign in the history of the United States. And while the rest of the world white knuckles the outcome, why not add alcohol to the shouting in contested open carry states?

It’s possible that on the morning of Wednesday, November 9th the American electorate will come to and wonder just what the hell they did the day before. Budweiser is one of the globe’s great brands, but by jingo that doesn’t mean it’s great beer. And so before that fateful fall morning the Vice President of Budweiser might wake up regretting what he has wrought, the potential damage to his brand’s equity and integrity, because I can now truthfully say without fear of offending our neighbours, friends and the lunatic fringe to the south that America has lost its way.

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