I pondered and psuedo-meditated on this topic for weeks before deciding I wanted to have something run on it. Partly, I don’t want to come off as nationalist. Most of all, I don’t want to offend my distributor buddies. I brew craft beer for a living, but I can also look like a professional when it comes to opening my blabber mouth and making things uncomfortable. But all that was before A-B InBev hauled off and announced it was rebranding Budweiser as “America” for the Summer.
After reading about it, I shared it with my industry friends and there was a near consensus: we couldn’t believe that what was being reported was factual — this had to be an Onion story, a really funny one too. We went on thinking it was a parody article until further digging uncovered that Ricardo Marques, VP of Marketing for Budweiser at A-B InBev, actually confirmed and discussed the campaign. Budweiser’s new name is just a part of the brand’s summer-long “America is in Your Hands” advertisement campaign. I was shocked that a brand headquartered in Belgium (a fact that’s well known), being run by a bunch of cutthroat Brazilian bankers, would have the gall to feign such a display of American-ness in this manner. Frankly, Budweiser calling itself ‘America’ is the most un-American thing I’ve observed in quite a while.
They’re doing it because they’re losing market share to craft beer faster than the Golden State Warriors imploded in the 2016 NBA finals after Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5. I’ll give it to them; they’re trying they’re damnedest to rally, and it helps that they’re damned good at formulating propaganda. I jokingly always say, “That’s why they get paid the big bucks.” In this case, it’s very true. Although the Achilles heel of their brand identity is the fact that they’re foreign owned, their core customer base are red-blooded Americans. Granted, they’re the ones who either don’t want to pay a premium price for beer, aren’t concerned with taste, or don’t care how and where their beer is made. Nonetheless, macro beer brands like Budweiser still account for 7 out of every 8 beers sold in America.
The piece of their argument in ad form that rings true is that Budweiser is still brewed in various locations stateside, like St. Louis, Missouri, and ABI does still employ Americans in those production facilities; however, the lion’s share of the profits go overseas and are largely subject to a system designed by the Belgian government for the purpose of tax avoidance. To me, any part of Budweiser or Anheuser-Busch being American died in 2008 with the buyout.
What really makes me angry goes beyond the fact that A-B InBev is a multinational corporation draping itself in the American flag. It’s that ABI is a multinational, who is large enough to be its own country, draping itself in the American flag, whilst also attacking an entire industry and culture of real American entrepreneurs, American workers and loyal American consumers. Furthermore, the brands’ ads have commandeered pairing beer with the quintessential American activities of tailgating, grilling burgers, and watching basketball, baseball, American football and stock car racing.
Breaking it down, what Budweiser seems to be saying is: “This cheap crap is still brewed here. See, we’re American. Bud is available at every sporting event, concert, BBQ and parking lot party. See, we’re American. Our product is so watered down, you can chug it between innings at your softball games. See, we’re American. Yeah, a lot of key decisions about our products are made in other countries or by people running multi-million dollar research campaigns. See, we’re…well, don’t pay any attention to that.“
After getting through Are they for real?, Aren’t they headquartered in Belgium, and How f*cking desperate can a brand get?, the big question is Can this really work? To that I say, don’t underestimate the power people of spending large sums of money with the intent of influencing consumer behaviors.
Budweiser does have a pretty heavy set of odds stacked against it, like a vast selection of great, actually American, handmade beers. ABI has never seen this kind of climate or landscape in America. You could ague that they had generations ago, but I disagree. The current techniques, science backing and available general information are far more advanced and accessible than they were when beer was on the decline in America a hundred or so years ago.
It’s also going to be harder in 2016 for Globo Beer, who offers a toned-down, non-offensive brew, to go head-to-head in a market where a customer can drive or walk five minutes and have a chat with the person who brews fifteen different styles, each being a unique, beautiful creation in its own right. In this war, A-B InBev is a large aircraft carrier, going the wrong way in the raging Pacific Ocean of a modern beer market defined by complexity and diversity, and here comes the 21st fleet of craft brewers on Sea-Doos passing it in the opposite direction. Good luck turning that ship around.
I end up arguing with people who think I take this stuff too seriously. Look, I get your view point, but craft beer is my way of life. A lot of people are counting on me to put forth my best effort at brewing awesomely: my family, my community and our local economy. That’s an enormous part of what drives me, and I meditate on that everyday. Along with people telling me I’ve got my panties in a bunch, I also get all of the rebuttals from the Big Beer apologists.
Let me preface this by saying, no offense to you if you feel this way, and I respect your opinion. Now, I’m going to address each of the statements I encounter that are in defense of ABI.
True statement. I feel bad for people that work for them, though. The working conditions have become almost unbearably harsh, and if it weren’t for brewers unions, the conditions would be laughable. The folks that took over the company slashed the budget incredibly. There’s a difference between taking care of your employees and taking care of your stockholders, and ABI is most certainly more concerned with the latter.
True statement. But it’s now owned and operated by Brazilian banksters who make decisions like banstkers do. Think about the juxtaposition of beer and Brazil for a moment. Are you watching the Olympic trials? Those cutthroats practically stole the once-American company from the founding family’s fourth generation. (I encourage you to learn about the awesomeness that was the St. Louis beer boom lead by a family that represents America’s story in a microcosm. The once-immigrants were self made and built an empire only to have it forcefully taken away from them. The book “Bitter Brew” by William Knoedelseder does an excellent job of encapsulating this story in a fair manner.) Today, most of the profits are recorded in Belgium, the world’s greatest tax haven for country-sized corporations.
And just how long will ABI need an American figurehead location? The Monday after the buyout, they were tearing down walls and throwing out the old regime. I can walk into some of my distributors offices and see all sorts of awards, but ironically none seem to be dated after 2008. Are their hard work and long hours no longer appreciated as much as saving a few bucks? Because, how much money does it take to recognize the lifeblood of the largest beer company EVER? In times like these, is it too much to say, “Thank you for all that you do?” This is the part I feel bad about writing, the part that almost kept me from writing all this. Some of my great friends make the bulk of their incomes by brewing and selling Big Beer products.
Some call me a hypocrite because not everything I buy is American-made and only benefits Americans. That’s very true, but I don’t have choice in other product markets like I do in the beer market. Please, tell me where I can buy an American craft toaster, and I’ll gladly never buy another one made in China. Also, the Chinese toaster company isn’t slapping the American flag all over their boxes and pandering to my country’s fervent patriotism.
Like I said earlier, I have a family and community to think about. I have employees and their families to consider. Every day these Big Beer companies are looking to squeeze my brands and other craft brands out of the market in any way possible. They don’t follow the rules. They’re incentivized to push every available penny to their shareholders, and the only plan they have for me and my brewery is to have my customers. I fear every day that I will be punished in some way for stating my opinion on Big Beer, as all of my distributing partners make the bulk of their money selling Big Beer. I love them deeply, and as silly as it may sound to some of you folks, I want to be their Budweiser. I want to be able to produce that kind of market share for our companies. I want the money to stay here in OUR community, OUR state and OUR nation. I want to be hitting the home runs for them one day. I want my brewery to be their top-selling brand one day.
The 2016 election season has got all of America thinking pretty extensively about the state of our economy. We’re all asking questions: Are we really creating enough good jobs? Is our trade policy hurting the American worker? Are we allowing foreign-owned multinationals to unfairly exploit the American consumer? Now this is the part where I might offend the rest of you, who don’t work in Big Beer — #SorryNotSorry, but don’t come to me bitching about the state of the American economy with a can of Bud in your hand.