It takes time to build a brand. Time to gain visibility, traction and trust. Time to build consumer sales.
Rebranding is a serious matter. It should never be undertaken lightly when it comes to heritage brands. Often, a simple tweaking is necessary to remain relevant—rather than a major overhaul. Especially when it comes to toying with some of the most recognized brands in the country. That’s why AB In-Bev’s announcement that Budweiser would be rebranded “America” starting at the end of May through the national elections in November stopped many
of us in our tracks.
My mind was racing when I read a short article about the plan in USA Today online. Why the heck are they doing this anyway??? I thought of a number of reasons. Let’s see: we celebrate our national holiday during the summer on the fourth of July. Major international sporting events like the Olympic Games in Rio and Copa America Centenario soccer tournament (being held here for the first time this summer) are sure to elicit patriotic fervor. And let’s not forget baseball games from the majors to local teams and all manner of outdoor activities that make us want to grab a Bud.
Then we get into the fall and football season—and we all know that Budweiser is a prominent sponsor of the NFL. And then there’s the blood sport called politics that lead up to a crescendo with the national elections.
Or is this more about crass commercialism? No matter how powerful a brand presence the name Budweiser has in the national consciousness, it only ranks fourth among the most-consumed beers in America. And according to a recent survey by research consultancy Brand Keys, Budweiser ranks 8th among the top ten named brands that consumers find the least emotionally engaging. Added to these woes is the stark fact that local and regional craft breweries have gained enormous traction and taken market-share from the major players in a steady manner.
So, is AB In-Bev, a conglomerate based in Belgium that orchestrated a hostile take-over of Annheuer-Busch a few years ago, responding to market factors by trying to suggest that it offers what America is all about and what she tastes like in bottles and cans? What about the folks out there who can’t abide Bud? Some think it’s weak and watered down. Some find it bitter. (Full disclosure: I couldn’t tell you because I don’t drink beer.) So are we to equate these sentiments with America?
Or is In-Bev trying to stoke patriotic fervor while helping their top-line sales out of a slump? Regardless the reason, replacing the Budweiser brand identity with the word “America” and adding phrases to packaging that are deeply embedded in the national consciousness from the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star-Spangled Banner and America The Beautiful is just plain weird. It smacks of schmaltzy, cheap tricks to make people emotional.
Oh, yes, and this is apparently part of a larger marketing campaign called: “America is in Your Hands”. Ugh! This is downright ugly. It makes you wonder what on earth any of these folks who run InBev in Belgium know about America and Americans, doesn’t it? Or was this concocted by someone over here, God forbid. Regardless, there’s no excuse about not employing sound marketing and branding principles.
Here’s the other thing. Budweiser packaging was just overhauled and rolled out fully just this past February; the first refresh since 2011 and a much bigger one. So now on top of a major packaging change, there’s to be a temporary rebranding??? Seriously? Picture this: guys at a baseball game asking for six Americas between innings. Or a couple of people dropping into a bar after work and asking for a couple of Americas. And how about this: a bunch of college grads dropping into their favorite store to buy a few cases of Americas to celebrate?
For those who are debating whether or not Coca-Cola’s new global packaging is good or bad, I submit to you that this is far worse. At least, Coca-Cola is still branded Coca-Cola whereas Budweiser changed their packaging and then decided to have the brand disappear for months on end. Which might make the brand Budweiser start disappearing for good.