I like mass market light beers.
I believe there’s a time and place for every beer on earth, and light beer is no exception. When I’m drinking all afternoon at a barbecue or beach, I don’t want to feel like I have a bowling ball in my stomach. I want a beer that tastes like it’s 25% water. Light beers fit the bill.
But for the most part I buy light beer in spite of, not because of, its sales pitches. Let us recall some of this genre’s greatest gifts to brand marketing…
Miller Lite introduced the “vortex bottle,” which has swirling grooves around the inside of the bottle’s neck, meant to make the bottle and the pouring process look somehow more pleasing. (They didn’t even pretend this would improve the beer itself.) But who cares how cool beer looks as it’s being poured? It appears Miller confused alcoholics with stoners.
Coors Light has released several iterations of beer cans that change colors depending on how cold the beer inside is. In other words, they spent millions of dollars creating and marketing a device designed to do something that’s already been done effectively for millennia by HANDS.
Bud Light ran an entire ad campaign touting the beer’s “drinkability.” The slogan might as well have been, “Our product satisfies the most basic criteria of the definition of a beverage.”
More recently Bud and Bud Light have declared war on craft beer, which has been sucking up market share. During the last Super Bowl, they ran an ad that included images of mustachioed hipsters sniffing craft beers with the message that Bud “is not brewed to be fussed over.”
It continued, “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale, we’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”
Bud might as well have said, “If you’re too limp-wristed to drive pickup trucks through the mud, play touch football in the mud, or participate in any other beer commercial tropes, our beer is not for you.”
I will say, pretentiousness in craft beer drinking is a real turnoff to me. And pumpkin everything is totally out of hand. But Bud’s dumb, alpha male attitude didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms. (Also, the ad aired days after Anheuser-Busch bought Elysian, a craft brewer that makes four pumpkin beers. Dumb!)
But recently Bud Light reached a new low. As part of their “Up for Whatever” campaign, they released a bottle with a label that reads, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.”
Seriously? Was “The Date Rape Beer” taken?
Clearly this is insensitive and offensive. Clearly. Right? It’s clear, isn’t it?
(Update: After public pressure, Bud Light announced they’ll stop printing labels with this message.)
What’s most shocking to me is that this isn’t just a dumb tweet that a junior staffer could theoretically have sent out without approval. (Like the one Bud Light sent in March that read, “On #StPatricksDay, you can pinch people who don’t wear green. You can also pinch people who aren’t #UpForWhatever.”)
Bud Light has a huge ad agency—BBDO—working for them. The 140-or-so rotating scroll messages on these Bud Light labels were written by professional copy writers at a big agency, who probably generated many hundreds, then winnowed the list. The messages went to the higher ups at the agency, then to the client, Bud Light. (Think young Peggy Olson presenting to Don Draper, then the two of them presenting to the client.)
Many well-paid people whose sole job is to craft these exact types of messages saw this before it was printed on a Bud Light bottle and said, “Yes. This is a good idea.”
There are two possible explanations. One is that they wanted a controversy—free publicity! The other is that they were so tone deaf as to be incompetent.
I’m going with incompetent. Call me an idealist. I’ve been in rooms where executives suggested they wouldn’t mind a controversy, but even the most daring brands tend to shy away from rape jokes.
If they thought this label was okay, what messages didn’t make the cut? (“Bud Light: So watery, she’ll hardly know she’s drinking.”)
I wish these beer companies would talk to me before developing their ad campaigns. I can’t speak for the hipsters or the pickup truck drivers, but I can speak for myself. And the slogan that would get me to buy more Bud Light would be one that reminded me why I like it: “Bud Light: So watery, it hydrates while it intoxicates.”
For the right price, I’d also be happy to help Coors and Miller develop some real innovations in beer vessels, such as:
- A can that stays cold even after you take it out of the fridge
- A bottle neck with interior grooves designed to modulate fizz, offering the pourer greater margin for error in head formation
- A pint glass that alters a beer’s bitterness based on the weather
Beer industry giants, I await your call.
Photo courtesy of Fast Company.