In the mid nineties, craft beer was booming. Pete's Wicked and Samuel Adams were leading the charge, and the craft sector was up 50% year to year. Big beer took notice, and hence an iconic ad was born. Given that IPAs and hoppy beers were at the forefront of the craft beer movement, it's doubtful that Bitter Beer Face wasn't anything other than a pointed barb by Coors Brewing, aimed in the direction of the newcomers.
We've got a new craft beer movement right now. Maybe it's healthier, maybe it's not a bubble like that time -- growth is more subdued when it comes to sales at least, with 10-20% gains year-to-year. In any case, it looks like big beer has once again shot an advertisement across the bow of craft beer.
This time, there are fewer punches pulled. Instead of a comic jab, craft beer drinkers are now made ridiculous -- they dither over small, dark beers with their facial hair, devoid of smiles or the pleasure of the attention of the fairer sex. Budweiser drinkers enjoy raucous mixed company, and quantity.
Leave aside the public relations danger that comes in turning an entire swath of young people into charicatures, and the potential personal prick to your own pride as you see your own kind made fun of -- at first, this seems like a very strange tact for an Anheuser InBev company to take.
Take this amusing tweet from Jacob Berg as a leap off point.
You were saying, @budweiser? pic.twitter.com/Gd4A5422Q6— Jacob Berg (@jacobsberg) February 2, 2015
Turns out, Elysian has made a peach pumpkin amber ale (Gourdgia on My Mind), so you don't even have to approximate this critique. Elysian was recently bought by Anheuser InBev. AIB now makes a pecan peach ale, all while making an ad that laughs at people drinking pecan peach ales. Is this cutting off the nose to spite the face?
Another retweet by Mr. Berg suggests at first that this is a moment of fear from the beverage giant.
budweiser pic.twitter.com/fOqVEJ18sE— Andrei Scheinkman (@ascheink) February 2, 2015
But to suggest that AIB hasn't thought this through is probably premature. Think of the quantity of the Budweiser beers bought in the super bowl advertisement. Think of the other main place where you see divisive advertisements like this -- the political arena. Think of the Budweiser brand manager trying to differentiate his beer from another macro beer like Coors.
Perhaps this was designed to 'rally the base.' The tenor of the ad certainly suggests as much. Now buying a Budweiser is almost a patriotic act -- or at least one that has a purpose, something like "I'll show those hipsters," maybe? That sort of injection of meaning into their beer buying habits worth a few extra dollars from loyal customers in the future. It might even pull a Coors drinker into the Budweiser fold.
And for all the people declaring that they will no longer spend a dime on AIB beers because of this ad -- how many of them were going to spend those dollars on AIB beers before the ad? It seems, instead, that the Elysians, Shocktops, and Blue Point purchases are more about point of sale tactics than necssarily buying the craft beer 'vote.'
You'll never see any of the beers that the BeerGraphs staff is bringing to your super bowl party at the actual game, but if our readers are stuck in those places, they may still fork over the dollars despite their now semi-moral and mostly-personal objection to AIB and their tactics, and advertisements. It beats buying the other beers from AIB that will be available there.
So yeah, it's not great for a beer nerd to see his kind made fun of on television. And maybe it will cost a few of AIB's craft brands a beer nerd's dollar here or there. Bourbon County Brand Stout?
But if those ads rally the conservative, old-school Budweiser drinkers into thinking their beer purchase has more meaning, then maybe Budweiser can encourage a few more buys from loyal customers. And maybe they can even steal a few drinkers away from other macro brands if their big beers aren't willing to take on the craft beer nerds like Budweiser obviously has.
Anyway, 'buy one because you're not a nerd' might be a more compelling argument, in the end, than 'our beer isn't bitter.' Even if the nerds hate it.