If you can count on one thing during the Super Bowl each year, it's that Anheuser Busch InbBev's (NYSE:BUD) iconic Budweiser brand will have a presence between downs. Sure enough, the Budweiser Clydesdales didn't disappoint during last month's game, pulling on our heartstrings with their adorable "Lost Dog" commercial.
At the same time, however, Budweiser raised millions of eyebrows with its more assertive "Brewed The Hard Way" spot. Take a look:
Budweiser's message couldn't be more clear: It's "proudly a macro beer," the commercial boasts, and "brewed for drinking, not dissecting."
And that's fair enough. With around 17 million barrels produced last year -- well above the 6 million barrel limit to be considered a craft brewer -- Budweiser is made for the masses. And given its massive scale, you certainly can't fault its consistency.
There have been almost 12 million views on YouTube as of this writing. Why do the video's almost 9,000 thumbs-down votes outnumber its nearly 1,400 thumbs-up clicks by a more than six-to-one margin?
On both YouTube and Facebook, the comments below the clip largely reflect that sentiment, with nearly everyone voicing their disdain for Budweiser's message. Here are three of the biggest reasons why:
1. It offends the customers Budweiser needs to win over
First, remember Budweiser's volume is down significantly from its peak of 50 million barrels in 1998. As the commercial not-so-subtly implies, a big gulp of that lost business has gone to younger consumers who are increasingly choosing to "fuss over" the vast variety of craft beers now available.
As of last November, A-B InBev said 44% of 21-to-27-year-old drinkers had never tried Budweiser. Within that age group, Nielsen research says craft brews comprise around 15% of their away-from-home beer purchases, a big jump from 10% for older generations. That's why A-B InBev decided last year that, rather than developing ads that appeal to all ages, it would concentrate future Budweiser advertising exclusively on winning this crucial age bracket of potential decades-long customers.
At best, however, the ad above simply reinforces the fondness of its brand for existing Budweiser drinkers. And at worst, by portraying all craft beer fans as picky, mustachioed hipsters, who'd likely never try Budweiser, anyway -- "Let them sip their Pumpkin Peach Ale," it sarcastically muses -- it's terribly offensive to that group of 21-to-27-year-olds who actually enjoy drinking craft beer.
2. It's hypocritical
Budweiser also failed to mention that, on January 23, 2015, its parent, A-B InBev, announced the acquisition of Seattle-based craft brewer Elysian Brewing Company. As it turns out, every October, Elysian holds its annual "Great Pumpkin Beer Festival" and features more than a dozen varieties of specially made pumpkin craft beers. And wouldn't you know it... last year's festival included one named "Gourdgia on my Mind Pecan Peach Pumpkin Amber."
This wasn't just a case of unfortunate timing for Budweiser's marketing team: Elysian was AB-InBev's fourth craft-brewery acquisition in the past five years. What's more, as of the end of 2014, A-B InBev owned a 31.7% stake in Craft Brew Alliance (NASDAQ:BREW), which itself encompasses the Red Hook, Widmer Brothers, Kona Brewing, and Omission beer brands. Ironically, that means none of these brands are considered true "Craft Brewers" as defined by the American Brewers Association -- but only because A-B InBev's stake is higher than the maximum 25% ownership threshold required for the designation.
It's hard to believe Budweiser's marketing team was completely ignorant of their parent company's craft acquisitions. And while Budweiser's social media team has since taken to Twitter insisting things like, "We're not anti-craft. Just pro-Bud," the seeming hypocrisy of the situation they created is inescapable.
3. Craft brewers are fighting back
Finally, craft brewers aren't taking the slight sitting down. If anything, the resulting furor has served to reinvigorate the craft-beer movement.
Take this spoof from the "Hopstories" YouTube channel, for example, which produces videos to "tell the stories of the craft beer industry." For the record, it currently has almost 256,000 views, with almost 2,400 thumbs-up votes -- or 1,000 more than Budweiser's ad has earned -- just 39 thumbs-down votes, and an overwhelmingly positive stream of comments:
On top of that, even the A-B InBev's newly purchased brands are jumping in. The day after the commercial aired, Oregon-based 10 Barrel Brewing, which struck a deal with the beer giant in November, attempted to lighten the mood on its Facebook page by jokingly suggesting a collaboration with Elysian to make a Pumpkin Peach Ale for their next small-batch beer.
However, note that Elysian co-founder Dick Cantwell says he's opposed the sale all along, but was outvoted by both his partners and his board to make it happen. "I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone-deaf as to pretty directly (even if unwittingly) call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired," Cantwell stated after the ad aired, "even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale."
In the end, if one thing seems true, it's that the craft-beer community now has that much more motivation to not just maintain, but accelerate their trend of taking market share from traditional brands like Budweiser. If Budweiser keeps pushing out controversial ads like this, I think the biggest problem craft brewers will have is keeping up with demand.