Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad is big risk in Trump’s USA
Anheuser-Busch InBev unintentionally waded into political controversy with a 60-second Super Bowl commercial that touts inclusion and the American Dream but could end up drawing the ire of half the country.
The well-crafted spot called “Born the Hard Way” tells the story of Adolphus Busch’s emigration from Germany to St. Louis, where he shares a beer with businessman Eberhard Anheuser. The two launched their eponymous company in the 19th century, and it became the largest brewer in the United States.
The ad was released on Tuesday and shows Busch navigating the new world against the head winds of prejudice and hardship.
The commercial’s themes are hope, ambition, patriotism, hard work and self-reliance. And then there’s timing, with Busch and Anheuser’s serendipitous introduction over a beer that led to their dynasty. Forbes magazine estimates the Budweiser brand is worth about $23.4 billion.
Turns out, timing is still relevant. Budweiser has released the commercial as President Trump raised a national firestorm with his order last week to temporarily ban refugees and immigrants from seven mostly Muslim-dominated countries as part of his national security policy.
“They hit on a relevant theme that’s going to resonate with half the country,” said Allen Adamson, founder of BrandSimple Consulting, referring to the beer ad. “But in this polarized world, it could easily upset half the country and be seen as political and stepping into something they don’t want to get into. If you feel everyone is out to get your president, this can easily can be interpreted that way.”
“It’s a new, complicated time,” said Thomas Ordahl, chief strategy officer at branding firm Landor. “It used to be people avoided politics altogether. You can’t do that any more as a brand.”
Ordahl said big companies with mass consumer appeal, such as Budweiser, Coca-Cola and others, are being forced to navigate the new environment. Companies are more and more willing to pull their endorsement deals from celebrities who embarrass them.
Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte saw his four commercial sponsors drop the 12-time Olympic medal winner in response to an incident during the Summer Olympics in which he falsely claimed that he and three teammates had been held up by armed robbers at a Rio de Janeiro gas station.
Also last summer, Mars Inc. found itself dragged into a bitter news story when Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a meme that included a picture of a bowl of the confectionery company’s Skittles sweets to argue about the danger of refugees. Tic Tac found itself dragged into the national conversation when the elder Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential candidate, was caught in a lewd video saying he preferred the breath freshener “just in case I start kissing her.”
Ordahl said millennials want greater transparency from the companies they patronize, on issues such as what they pay, where they source their products and which political figures they support.
“The headline here is: Brands can’t stand on the sidelines anymore,” Ordahl said. “The knee-jerk is don’t touch. It’s just a third rail. That option is fast disappearing.”
“I’m sure Bud’s sales are slipping in the younger demo and they knew that a topic like this would be a hot topic to draw response based around discussions from both parties,” Ron Thompson, creative director at HZDG advertising, headquartered in suburban Washington, said in an email. “What they could not do was forecast the executive order that was signed last week, which will inevitably push this spot into a higher stratosphere for debate and discussion. This started as a concept staged around an edgy subject to remind all people where we came from. It will now come off as a political stance, a perfect or imperfect storm.”
Thompson said Mexican brewed Tecate Beer first tackled the immigration issue with its 30-second “Beer Wall” spot that showed Americans and immigrants coming together over its beer.
“It got people talking, which is what we creatives try and do everyday,” Thompson said.
Budweiser is known for its catchy Super Bowl advertising, including a solemn and patriotic piece that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. In that spot, which aired only once, Budweiser’s signature Clydesdale draught horses bow toward southern Manhattan, where the attacks occurred.
“We believe beer should be bipartisan and did not set out to create . . . political commentary.” Marcel Marcondes of Anheuser-Busch
The beer company said “Born the Hard Way” has been in the works for almost a year and was not intended to make a political statement. A spokesman said the company, which has its U.S. headquarters on Park Avenue in New York, will carry through and run the spot during Sunday’s game. The company’s chief executive is Brazilian-born financier Carlos Brito.
“We believe beer should be bipartisan and did not set out to create a piece of political commentary,” said Marcel Marcondes, vice president of marketing, Anheuser-Busch, in a statement released by the company. “However, we recognize that you can’t reference the American Dream today without being part of the conversation.”
“They obviously got lucky. But I’m sure they’re nervous now because the world has changed since they filmed this commercial,” Adamson said of Budweiser. “It’s riskier for them because so many of their drinkers are in states that voted for the president. Not in Palo Alto.”
Super Bowl ads aren’t cheap. The going rate is $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime during the game, up from around $4.8 million last year, according to the New York Times. The production of the ads and elaborate marketing campaigns across all media platforms can add millions more.
At one time, selling patriotism was a no-brainer, Adamson said.
“Being for inclusion, immigration, used to be seen as patriotic and perfectly fine subject matter for almost any brand,” he said. “Now, for sure you are obviously going to have half the audience loving you and half not buying you.”
Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Super Bowl ad, “Born the Hard Way,” explores hope, ambition, patriotism, hard work and self-reliance.