A cold can of ‘Amer­ica’

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ge­orge Will

— Be­cause ad­ver­tis­ing is a barom­e­ter that often ac­cu­rately mea­sures Amer­ica’s psy­cho­log­i­cal at­mos­phere, at­ten­tion must be paid to this: From May 23 through the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Bud­weiser beer will bear a dif­fer­ent name. Ea­ger to do its bit to make Amer­ica great again, the brewer will re­place the name “Bud­weiser” with “Amer­ica” on its 12-ounce bot­tles and cans.

The Fi­nan­cial Times says this is “a bid to cap­i­tal­ize on U.S. elec­tion fever.” (Be­fore the Chicago Cubs be­strode the world like a colos­sus, T-shirts pro­claimed “Cubs Fever: Catch it — and die.”) A beer bot­tle meta­physi­cian at the brewer of soon-to-be Amer­ica says, “We are em­bark­ing on what should be the most pa­tri­otic sum­mer that this gen­er­a­tion has ever seen.” This refers to the once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion, light­the-sparklers op­por­tu­nity to choose be­tween two pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates roundly dis­liked by Amer­i­can ma­jori­ties. It is enough to drive one to drink some­thing stronger than beer.

Bud­weiser’s name change is part of an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign fea­tur­ing the slo­gan “Amer­ica is in your hands.” The brewer says this will “re­mind peo­ple ... to em­brace the op­ti­mism upon which the coun­try was first built.” So, be­tween now and Nov. 8, when­ever you belly up to a bar, do your pa­triot duty by or­der­ing a foamy mug of Amer­ica. Noth­ing says “It’s morn­ing in an Amer­ica that is back and stand­ing tall” quite like beer cans fes­tooned with Amer­i­cana by An­heuser-Busch InBev, a firm based in Leu­ven, Bel­gium, and run by a Brazil­ian.

The beer brands most fa­mil­iar to Amer­i­cans — Bud­weiser, Miller, Coors — are for­eign-owned. Want to win a round of cold Amer­i­cans this sum­mer? Wa­ger that no one in the sa­loon can iden­tify the Amer­i­canowned brewer with the largest mar­ket share and say what that share is. The an­swer is: D.G. Yuengling & Son with just 1.4 per­cent of the mar­ket, slightly more than Bos­ton Beer Co., which makes the Sam Adams brand.

Years ago, his­to­rian Daniel Boorstin said that whereas Euro­peans went to mar­ket to get what they want, Amer­i­cans go to dis­cover what they want. Nowa­days the mar­ket comes to cus­tomers ev­ery­where via ubiq­ui­tous ad­ver­tis­ing, pre­cious lit­tle of which is de­signed to cre­ate de­sires for new prod­ucts. Beer com­mer­cials are not sup­posed to make view­ers thirsty or to prompt them to buy beer rather than Buicks. Rather, the com­mer­cials’ pri­mary


pur­pose is to de­fend and ex­pand a brand’s mar­ket share. They do this by giv­ing par­tic­u­lar beers dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ties. By do­ing so, they stroke con­sumers’ psy­ches, draw­ing beer drinkers into what Boorstin called “con­sump­tion com­mu­ni­ties.” Con­sumers are moved to covet a prod­uct less for its in­trin­sic qual­i­ties than its man­u­fac­tured mean­ing. Ad­ver­tis­ing does this by re­duc­ing its in­for­ma­tion con­tent and in­creas­ing its emo­tional ap­peals.

Bud­weiser is the “king of beers” — we know it is be­cause Bud­weiser says it is — but will not be say­ing so dur­ing this ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign. The slo­gan will be re­placed by “E Pluribus Unum.” This is Latin for “Per­haps a gusher of pa­tri­otic kitsch will stanch the leak­age of our mar­ket share to pesti­len­tial craft brew­eries.”

Amer­ica has more than 4,000 craft brew­eries. Most Amer­i­can adults — 235 mil­lion of them — live within 10 miles of a lo­cal brew­ery. And more than 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans 21to-27 have never tasted Bud­weiser. They pre­fer craft beers (a craft brewer ships no more than 6 mil­lion bar­rels a year; Bud­weiser shipped 16 mil­lion in 2013, down from 50 mil­lion in 1988), which per­haps ex­plains Bud­weiser’s cur­rent weirdly tru­cu­lent com­mer­cials, such as this: “Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. ... It’s brewed for drink­ing, not dis­sect­ing. ... Beer brewed the hard way. Let them sip their pump­kin peach ale.” And this: “Not small. Not sipped. Not soft. Not a fruit cup. Not im­ported.” Not cheer­ful.

Last year, craft brew­ers, which are in­creas­ing at a rate of al­most two a day, won 12.8 per­cent of the $105.9 bil­lion beer mar­ket. And 2015 was the sixth con­sec­u­tive year, and the 12th time in 15 years, in which beer’s por­tion of the na­tion’s al­co­hol rev­enue de­clined as more Amer­i­cans drink cock­tails like the char­ac­ters on “Mad Men.”

If, how­ever, these as­pir­ing Don Drap­ers hoist an Amer­ica, they will have in their hands bot­tles and cans adorned with snip­pets of Amer­i­can Scrip­ture — the Pledge of Al­le­giance, “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner” and “Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful.” The psalmist said that joy cometh in the morn­ing. Fat lot the psalmist knew. Joy cometh in the even­ing when you crack a cold can of Amer­ica and an­tic­i­pate the thrills of the loom­ing “pa­tri­otic sum­mer.” Go ahead. It’s 5 o’clock some­where.

Ge­orge Will is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at georgewill@ wash­post.com.

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