Bud­weiser’s Su­per Bowl ad is big risk in Trump’s USA

The Washington Post Sunday - - TAKING STOCK - BY THOMAS HEATH thomas.heath@wash­post.com

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

An­heuser-Busch InBev’s Su­per Bowl ad, “Born the Hard Way,” ex­plores hope, am­bi­tion, pa­tri­o­tism, hard work and self-re­liance.

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