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I had a discussion with an Asheville, NC brewer last year who was in the process of doing a brand redesign with a branding shop based in Texas. They did a lovely job, by the way. The topic of taps came up — taps being the long ceramic bar-top devices used to pour beer.

Having poured a little beer at the Bluepoint Brewery taproom back in the day, I recognized up close how tap designs can be a cool branding “thing.”  Bluepoint, I was told, used a California-based tap manufacturer and paid a handsome price per piece. Each tap had a unique grab, including mermaids, monks, Rastafarians, lighthouses, buoys, etc.  All distinct and memorable.  When I shared this with the Asheville brewer, who perhaps had been bitten a little too hard by the branding bug, she suggested the lack of brand continuity was a weakness.  

Out for a quaff last Friday at the Mellow Mushroom, a local joint with over 100 beers on tap, I noticed about 5 or 6 of the local brewer’s beer taps. All had the same logo, all had the same block letter typeface for the beer name, all sporting a different color for package differentiation. Very corporate. Very easy to read. Beer personality: Zero.

Blue Point got it right. Each beer is a brand. Each should be celebrated as such at the local watering hole. Peace.


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So the Federal Trade Commission can squash the proposed merger of Staples and Office Depot, whose collective asses are being kicked in by Amazon (over the last two years the two office supplies companies have been forced to close nearly 600 stores), but they say it’s okay for Anheuser Busch InBev to rename Budweiser beer “America” for the summer???

Budweiser America

I love America and I love Budweiser, but this idea crosses the branding line for me. Not that I oppose it – let’s see what happens… what the hell. I just think it’s a bit sketchy and too commercializing. It’s also too easy. Also, for those of us who stop and take their hats off whenever we hear the Star Spangled Banner, it may be off-putting and have a negative effect.

America is not a brand. And that’s the point. For the FTC or whomever to allowed this promotion to happen it’s a rookie mistake. Even for a young 240 year old.




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Lachky. Wass Down?


Chief creative officer was the most recent title for Robert Lachky at Anheuser-Busch. Mr. Lachky has stepped down and by many accounts his legacy at Budweiser will be viewed as a good one. He presided over many notable TV campaigns.  But he was also a senior officer at a time when many AB properties lost share and relevance.  Coming in number one in the USA Today Ad Meter Survey of Super Bowl ads doesn’t necessarily translate into keg sales, it would appear.  Mr. Lachky deserves props for establishing Bud Light — I’ll give him that — but in my mind his focus on creative rather than product-based differentiation was his undoing. 


The next time you see a consumer packaged good executive with the title of chief creative officer, run.  Peace!    








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Chicago, JWT and CPG

What’s the idea with Chicago? 

Is it losing its luster as an advertising community? JWT, one of the city’s cornerstone agencies, is down to 50 people. At its highpoint JWT employed upwards of 800 in Chicago; some of which were the highest priced, highest profile creative people in the business. Chicago has always been a stronghold of packaged goods advertising, thanks to its proximity to the giant food and beverage manufacturers, which makes me wonder if consumer packaged goods (CPG) marketers are less committed to traditional consumer advertising – the recession aside.  Of the thirteen companies identified by Ad Age as Super Bowl XLIII advertisers only Coke, Pepsico, Anheuser Busch and Pedigree are present. The rest are car, tire, and Internet plays. Hmmm. Peace!

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Now I know the economy’s in the shizzer. Anheuser Busch pulled the plug and accepted InBev’s $70 a share bid. They reasoned it was going to be too much work to fight their way out of the beer doldrums. Too bad. Anheuser Busch was a great corporate citizen in this country and will be missed – especially in St. Louis. I can’t wait until Busch Stadium is named after some bank.
Here’s what Anheuser Busch couldn’t do and what Anheuser Busch InBev must do to pay back the incredible debt it’s assuming: It must understand and serve the most profitable beer segments around the world. The first segment it needs to corner is the light beer segment in Spanish speaking countries. Cervecería India, owner of Medalla Light, is doing a great job with this segment marketing a low-cost 11 oz. beer that flows like water in Puerto Rico. A similar beer sold in the U.S. would take off and kick-start the new ABI portfolio giving other up-market segment portfolio managers time to figure out how to increase share of Bass, Stella and the poorly managed “king of beers.” Get to it. Peace!

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MillerCoors, the soon-to-be combined brewer that will compete with Anheuser Busch for share of the domestic beer market, has some hard marketing decisions ahead with Miller Lite. A friend of mine who brews beer at home once told me Miller Genuine Draft is the best tasting pasteurized beer on the market. He told me this while we had some grain a toastin’ on the stove. I believed him. Sometimes, where you hear something is more important than what you hear.  Taste is not an underrated quality in beer and especially so when it comes to light beer.
Here’s my advice regarding Miller Lite, the beer that broke open the light category with its “Tastes Great. Less Filling.” campaign. Taste is the key strategic point and Y&R Chicago pounded it a couple of years ago with “I can’t taste my beer.” If MillerCoors and current agency BBH can create advertising that “proves” the taste, they will win.  Don’t do a taste tests, just find what in the brewing process creates the taste better and make that the idea. 

How about something like “it’s the toast.”


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There’s a saying I once put into a new business Powerpoint deck that actually sounded like a saying: “Campaigns come and go, but a powerful branding idea is indelible.”  To me this touches upon the problem with Anheuser Busch’s advertising over the last 15 years — no powerful branding idea.  The Wall Street Journal today (6/13/08) reminds us of some so-called great Bud and Bud Light ad campaigns: Clydedales, Louie the Lizard, Spuds MacKenzie, “whassup,” Bud Bowl, Cedric the Entertainer and, more recently, “dude.”  Beyond the creative hook, can anyone tell me what the branding idea is in these campaigns?  I sure can’t.  Therefore, the idea is the creative not the product, and that’s always a bad idea.

No wonder InBev – the company attempting a hostile takeover of AB — feels there is fat to be cut away from Anheuser Busch.  They are right.  Whoever owns the company should cut the Super Bowl budget in half and spend the $13 million saved on some special beechwood aging gizmo that proves superior taste claim.  It will give all the dogs and horses and geckos something substantive to talk about. 


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I grew up on Budweiser beer. Clean, crisp beer. Clydesdales. American colors. No after-taste. Man, it was a great beer on a hot day. Still is.
Today, Budweiser and the Anheuser Busch Company are being pursued by InBev, a Belgium company, and number 3 brewer worldwide.   It didn’t have to come to this.  Over the last 15 years Anheuser Busch took its eye off the ball.
The latest generation of Buschs let the master brand Budweiser diminish in importance, while building up Bud Lite.  The assumption was the old boys would keep drinking Bud and live forever, so they focused their resources on Bud Light but got in a slug fest with Coors Light. Budweiser sales waned. Moreover, they never understood how to create a brand extension in the craft category. And every year AB spent millions and millions in Super Bowl commercials and thought they were innovating, reading all their great advertising press.  Finally realizing their folly, AB attempted to get younger with Bud.TV, but it was too late and way out of touch. Geezer mentality.
If they can bring this thing back, and I dearly hope they do, AB really needs to understand the next generation beer consumer. It’s a BIG market they don’t want to cede to InBev.

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Each year Anheuser Busch invests more and more money in Super Bowl ads. They are convinced it works. And why should they think otherwise? Over the past 10 years AB has earned the top spot more than any other brand in USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter. 

How else does AB measure the success of these commercials? Here’s what they say: “Likeability” of the ads, increased sales and market share, “making our selling system excited,” and, lastly, “making consumers feel we are the leader in the category.” With the exception of sales and market share these metrics are drivel. Anheuser Busch beer sales are down. Bud Light is successful, but the rest of the portfolio is lagging. 

Do you know what really excites employees and distributors? Sales. Crazy sale. Perceptions of leadership, likeability and company excitement are second tier metrics for companies whose sales are dropping.  AB needs to do better job of blocking and tackling, focusing, and refining its core message.  It needs to stop spending 6 months each year on the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is killing Budweiser. 

Here’s what I remember about Anheuser Busch Super Bowl advertising over the last 5 years: dalmations, clydedales, big fire trucks and snow. I’m not feeling it Mr. Busch.

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The King

Even though it markets the number one selling beer in America, Bud Light, Anheuser-Busch is in a slump. Craft beers aside, the problem with the portfolio is that the flagship beer, Budweiser, is not being consumed by 20-somethings. It has lost relevance. AB is pushing Bud Light and it’s working. Women like Bud Light because it’s low in calories and allows them to keep their wits about them (versus spirits). Guys like it because girls do.  If you go to an arena concert today the line for the Budweiser is non-existent, while those for Bud Light, Coors, Miller and Guinness wind around the bathroom.
Augie needs to stay the course with Bud Light, but dial up the volume and relevance of Bud. Push the ingredients, trot out the Clydesdales, target 25-34 males, promote Americana, tight blue jeans, hard work and white teeth. And find a great song. Double ad spending, advertise in the right places and bring back the share. It’s the King of Beers for God’s sake.

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