While watching my hometown Chicago Bears drop a heart breaker to the New York Giants, I had my first chance to watch Anheuser-Busch’s newest attempt to fight back against the gains of the better beer segment. The television ad, part of A-B’s $30 million campaign to rejuvenate the ailing Michelob brand, was a low key, T&A free promotion of the flavor and heritage of the Michelob brand. The ad shows an interview with a brewer who talks about Michelob’s tradition and its high quality ingredients. Then, somewhat surprisingly, the focus shifted from the standard Michelob lager to the less familiar ‘family’ of Michelob brands. The ad featured the Michelob Porter, Pale Ale, and Hefeweizen and heralded their quality. The ad ends with the campaign’s new tagline, “crafting a better beer.”
My first response was, ‘wow, did that just happen?’ Beyond the fact that the ads seem to unapologetically steal from Boston Beer’s successful line of television ads (focus on quality ingredients and the passion of the brewers), the brewing giant’s co-option of the name of craft beer is both brazen and a sign of acceptance. The campaign goes far beyond merely releasing new beers and hoping one sticks, it is a celebration of flavor, quality, and better beer. Think about that, better beer. ‘Better than what’ a savvy, regular beer drinker might ask after watching the ad. The only answers a viewer can be left with are Budweiser and Bud Light.
One member of the Michelob brand family that does not appear in the ad is Michelob Ultra, the company’s former low carb, sales golden boy. One A-B executive told Advertising Age that the disassociation was a conscious decision. “You’re going to see us reduce the reliance on the name Michelob with Ultra, maybe even to the point of taking it off the packaging down the road,” the executive said.
Regardless of whether the campaign, which again finds A-B trying to promote Michelob as a connoisseur’s brand, actually increases Michelob’s sales, the overall message is clear. Craft brewers have changed the nature of the game.