Most of you are aware of my “other life.” In my spare hours I pursue homebrewing, winemaking, and have studied world beer styles in order to judge homebrew competitions throughout my area. I know a thing or two about beer, is what I’m saying. It’s a magnificent beverage, full of history and nuance, with over seventy distinct styles available to choose from. Beer is a force for connection, bringing men and women together in the pursuits of conversation, diversion, comradery, and a mutual appreciation for living life to its fullest.
So, when I see a major beer company ramp out an attack ad on craft beer, it irks me. Yes, I am well and truly irked. If you’re wondering… here’s the ad:
This is Anheuser Busch’s attempt to take a swipe at the burgeoning craft beer industry. What is craft beer, you might ask? It’s an attempt to create on a commercial level the same kind variety and quality of ales and lagers that are enjoyed around the world… even pioneering new styles to create bold flavors. Sometimes it’s just the refinement of the old standards. Often times craft beer is brewed on a large scale (Samuel Adams, anyone?). It has its own pursuits, its own goals, and sure enough its own consumer base.
Which is why Anheuser Busch feels threatened. They’re losing their consumer base year after year to the craft beer industry.
Now, here’s my token gesture of perspicuity… I admire what the likes of Anheuser Busch, Coors, and Miller accomplish. The sheer staggering volume of lager they produce over several facilities in several continents month-after-month is jaw-dropping. As is their quality control. Can you imaging producing that many million gallons of beer across the globe and maintaining such consistency over the flavor, aroma, appearance and mouthfeel of their product? It’s a science, and one they have nailed tight!
One might argue that there’s a bit too much science, and not enough art. But they are in the business of selling units. Individuals within the world of “macro” beer may take personal delight in craft beer, and the history of brewing in general. But on the corporate level… it ain’t about the beer. It’s about the profit. That’s not a morally “corrupt” thing, either… it’s just business. And it’s important to remember this when Budweiser insists its beers aren’t brewed to be “fussed over.”
So, I’m rolling my eyes over here. Of course they’re going to roll out a caricature of a craft beer enthusiast, and slam a side of ham across our faces with their “pumpkin peach” zinger. But that doesn’t worry me. All it shows is that they feel threatened.
But here’s what does worry me… the spirit of the thing. Remember those consumer bases I mentioned previously? Those are groups of people who are not necessarily divided into mutually exclusive pools. Hell, if they were, then the Big Beer people wouldn’t be losing so much market share. However, I worry that there is, in fact, a looming culture war on the horizon, and this beer ad is just one shot in the opening salvo.
Let’s switch gears and talk about cider… earlier in the football season Redd’s Wicked Apple aired a commercial showing a happy young tailgating couple side-eyeing a cartoonish fop in a neck-tied sweater tasting wine. They elect for the cider and move on as Wine Guy appears to get high on the fumes of his wine, teeth hilariously stained in what could best be described as True Blood.
Different beverage, different commercial… same statement. You don’t want to be like these fussy people. You don’t want to be laughed at because you’re discerning. Don’t stray from social norms, dammit… Only commies drink craft beer. Only one-percenters drink wine at sporting events. THIS IS NOT YOUR CULTURE, SO ESCHEW IT!
Let’s switch gears yet further. Who’s seen American Sniper? Who’s read the kerfluffle that’s ignited online and offline over whether you like the film or you hate America? Yeah. It’s boiled down to that. You get those on the one side who recoil from the film’s gratuitous aggrandizement of the American imperialist message and glorification of our culture of racially-charged military violence-as-culture. Then you get those on the other side who are compelled by its gripping portrayal of an American war fighter, sacrificing much of what he is to secure the safety and freedoms not only of his country, but more specifically his family. You don’t hear a hell of a lot about the in-betweeners here. The movie, as with much of the current American cultural climate… is polarizing. You either side with it or against it.
So, yeah. Budweiser wants you to take sides, here. Either you’re a craft-beer swilling commie with a mustache and questionable sexual inclinations, or you’re a “hard way” American who scoffs at sophistication and discernment. Anheuser Busch, perhaps without realizing it, has managed to level the greater insult against its own client base. Rather than actually offending the craft beer enthusiasts… they’ve just painted their own brand loyalists as incapable of complexity and independent thought.
What worries me is that their fans might not even realize it.
What’s the message that AH is trying to deliver, here? Don’t overthink your beer. Don’t be critical of what’s being packaged and presented to you. Don’t evaluate its qualities and merits. Don’t be associated with people who do. Instead… just accept the brand you were given. Accept the beer your father drank. Accept what is institutionally instilled without discernment or qualification.
Jesus… when you put it that way, it’s almost chilling.