superbowl ad

Budweiser’s “Brewed The Hard Way” Ad Is Almost Perfect

If you pay even a tiny bit of attention to what craft beer people are talking about in media (either social or traditional) you are aware that the topic du jour is Anheuser-Busch’s Superbowl ad for Budweiser titled “Brewed The Hard Way” (a.k.a. Proud to be a Macro). In case you need a refresher, here’s the ad:

Craft beer fans have been in an uproar because the ad attacks our beloved beverage as something to be “fussed” over, and paints craft consumers as pompous hipsters. Just about all the criticisms fall along the lines of what Jim Vorel wrote for Paste Magazine.

I would like to make two points regarding this ad. One, it wasn’t intended to convince dedicated craft beer consumers that Budweiser is good and two, it has already been a boon to craft beer marketing and will continue to be for some time to come.

Regarding the first point, the ad was intended to convince people who think craft beer is mostly consumed by pretentious hipsters that Budweiser should be their beer of choice. Craft beer consumers can be guilty of tunnel vision when it comes to the wider world of malt beverages, forgetting that craft brewers still only had 8% market share as of 2013. 92% (or probably slightly less once the 2014 numbers become available) of the American beer market consists of domestic “macros” and imports. And Budweiser’s slice of that pie has been steadily declining for many years. The ad was squarely aimed at trying to increase Bud’s share of the non-craft segment, and with that in mind, I think it was pretty brilliant. Credit where credit is due.

Regarding the second point, the ad was manna from heaven for craft brewers, and they should be thanking their preferred deity for having blessed them with it. A mere two days have passed and already we have this from Abita:

And this from Green Flash:

And this from homebrewing supply shop Northern Brewer:

And who knows how many others have been posted that I haven’t seen yet. Having an enemy to vilify rallies the base. Anheuser-Busch has always been Enemy Number One for craft beer, and this ad serves as a useful rallying cry.

The worst part of the ad was their shot at those who sip “pumpkin peach” ales made a direct hit on a craft brewery they just purchased, Elysian Brewing in Seattle, which makes a pumpkin peach ale called Gourdgia On My Mind. So, oops. But even that’s turning out pretty well for them, as the widely respected Homebrewers Association just saw fit to publish an article featuring tips from the Elysian head brewer on brewing with pumpkins.

The real battle in beer is not over flavor. The oft-repeated claim that American macro lagers taste like “horse piss” is absurd on its face. The facilities of the mega breweries are engineering marvels that produce the most consistent beer in the world, brewed to be light and crisp and as inoffensive as possible to the maximum number of people. Millions of people enjoy the (minimal) flavor of those beers. And if flavor was truly where the battle was being fought, you wouldn’t see the countless message board posts every time A-B or MillerCoors buys another small brewery announcing how Joe Craftbeer hates that he can no longer drink the beers he enjoys from Brewery X because they just sold out to Big Beer.

No, the real battle is over the souls of the companies making the beer. And that’s a thorny topic for another day.