Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Holes In Budweiser's Patriotic Positioning

First introduced over a century ago in 1876, it's that long history of Americans drinking Budweiser which has made more than just a beverage - its achieved the recognition of being true Americana.   

The beer's American tradition was the brands' strongest defense and best offense against the wave of imported beers marketed to the American beer drinker.  But Budweiser's best asset was sold away in 2008 when the stockholders of Anheuser-Busch agreed to a foreign takeover by the Belgium-based brewer InBev.  Although the beer is still made in St. Louis by American workers, it's difficult to muster the same patriotic feeling holding a Bud in your hand when you know that it's now part of some Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate.

So Budweiser is fighting back against this perception with its new "Made In America" campaign.  The campaign piggy-backs on Budweiser's sponsorship of the Made In America Music Festival in Philadelphia during Labor Day weekend and is slated to return annually.  The music festival will feature dozens of acts alongside headliner Jay-Z, who without coincidence released a hit single last year titled "Made In America," along with collaborators Kanye West and Frank Ocean.  It would seem like the perfect opportunity for Budweiser to restore itself in the minds of the consumer as being an All-American beer.  

Unfortunately, I don't believe that's something Budweiser can really get back.  Anheseur-Busch can hammer home a patriotic message in every advertising opportunity, whether it be sponsoring a summer music festival called "Made In America,"sponsoring the United States Olympic team, or even draping the bottle in red, white and blue, but each time they do, I'm only reminded of the fact that they're not All-American anymore.

The facts are no longer with them.  Although Budweiser says can claim all-American status, when they do, we recall the summer sale in 2008 because it now triggers the implication of the opposite being true.  A common example of this is a money-back guarantee.  While marketers offer this compelling claim in an attempt to convey the utmost confidence in their product, it actually conveys a lack of confidence in it by acknowledging that consumers might find themselves dissatisfied. 

Trying to fix a known weakness by fighting against it will get brands into trouble.  Anything short of breaking off of the InBev family tree, Budweiser will still be foreign and still remind people of this every time they try to tell us how American they really are.

But Budweiser can turn this perceived weakness into its strength.  In a crowded category where every beer is fighting to be the local favorite, Budweiser's days of being the local micro-brew have long past.  And it's no longer just an American brand.  Instead, Bud is the most recognizable beer in the world and available in all corners of globe; therefore, it should position itself as the first beer of the entire world.    

Its heritage supports this position as well. It was created by Aldophis Busch, a German immigrant, who studied in Belgium (the home of InBev) and then settled in America.  Budweiser's heritage not only reflects that story of America, a nation of immigrants, but also that of a world where everyone is an immigrant in search of their own opportunities and upward mobility.

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