Budweiser’s domestic sales are going through a rough patch. Its sales have declined for the past few quarters in a row, contributing to overall revenue declines for its parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, per USA TODAY.
Since 2014, traditional beer sales for national brands like Budweiser and Coors have lost majority market share in the US to craft beers. Budweiser’s low price point is appealing, but its high calorie content makes it less palatable even to its lower-calorie counterpart, Bud Light.
AB InBev needed a spark that could increase sales—and, ideally, something that the company could build a content strategy around. As Budweiser has always done, it looked to its advertising department, and that brain-trust had another bold idea:
“Let’s just name the beer after America?”
When news of this rebrand came out in May, it whipped up a firestorm of reactions from all across the spectrum. Research shows the commentary on social media was primarily negative: Consumers saw the rebrand as a cheap bid for nostalgia, and an easy means of capitalizing on patriotic sentiments sure to be stoked by the Fourth of July season, this year’s Summer Olympics, and the ongoing election cycle.
It’s not by coincidence that Budweiser’s rebrand will run from June until Election Day next November. But even if the motivations are transparent, marketers shouldn’t dismiss the strategy as condescending or hack. Some of us may cringe, but Budweiser’s pivot away from negative attacks on craft beers is a smart one. The company struggled to convince consumers that Budweiser could compete on the merits of its quality and taste.
So instead, Budweiser has shined the spotlight on itself and changed the conversation, all while making a bold emotional play.
For many brands, a rebrand comes with significant risk. As Forbes points out, a study from Millward Brown last year found that changing a brand’s name can trigger a decline in sales by anywhere from 5 to 20 percent.
But some of those risks are associated with lost brand recognition. Through its “America” rebrand, Budweiser faces no such risk: It retains many recognizable branding components that make it such a strong global brand in the first place. But more importantly, its instant media coverage has spurred on incredible amounts of digital content, saturating the Web with articles, social media posts, and other forms of content that mention both “Budwesier” and “America” alongside one another.
According to Ad Age, AB InBev registered more than one billion earned impressions within 48 hours of announcing its rebrand. Those impressions cover both news reports and social media posts. Many brands risk losing some recognition and coverage when they change their name, but Budweiser’s gamble had the reverse effect: It became such a bold, noteworthy and polarizing move that nobody could help but chip in their opinion.
Budweiser did produce some content on its own, namely mock-ups of its new rebranded design as well as some videos to share on social. But by and large, its content strategy excelled because of the content it inspired from other creators. By being bold, the company outsourced its content marketing at no cost to itself.
There are many beer consumers across the country who will turn up their noses at drinking “America.” They’ll be turned off by the transparency of the move, its perceived cheapness, and/or the reality that Budweiser’s actual product isn’t changing at all.
But this does nothing to inhibit the success of Budweiser’s rebrand. The company is clearly targeting a segment of American beer drinkers, and market research shows the company has a deep understanding of its target consumer base.
As Target Marketing points out, market research in recent years has painted a telling portrait of the typical Budweiser drinker. They are 42 percent more likely to drive a pick-up truck, and 68 percent more likely to use a credit card with flexible payment terms. Budweiser drinkers are typically middle-class and working-class, and—this is important—patriotic.
The rebrand is targeted directly at this consumer base. Budweiser is basically saying that it’s as American as apple pie, oversized pick-up trucks, American flag tattoos, and teary-eyed bald eagles.
That iconography might not resonate with you, but it resonates with Budweiser drinkers. As Budweiser loses some of those consumers to craft beer, “America” is an attempt to win them back, and strengthen brand loyalties among that core base.
Rolling out an ambitious, nationwide content strategy can be expensive, depending on how you do it. That leads us to the other incredible success of Budweiser’s rebrand: It was extremely low-cost.
Think about it: The company produced very little of its own content. Instead, it harnessed social media and traditional news to promote its story. The company didn’t even invest in a significant rebrand of its cans and bottles: The general design is intact, with only a few words swapped out. By every measure, the changes and content demands were minuscule.
Now contrast that to the returns: 1 billion impressions within 48 hours already more than pushed this campaign into the black. But there are months of additional opportunities ahead, built around Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day—virtually the entire summer season, and in a year when the election cycle guarantees that conversations about America will remain at the forefront.
At a time when the American people are engaging conversations about what our country is versus what we want it to be, Budweiser—ahem, “America”—is here to say: I’ll be whatever you want me to be. It’s hard to imagine a different campaign that could have been as successful. Based on the ROI it’s generated in the first few weeks, Budweiser hit a home run.
You and I don’t have to like Budweiser’s rebrand. We don’t have to drink a single can of “America” this summer. And that’s just fine with AB InBev. This move isn’t about reclaiming the American drinking populace: Instead, it’s all about reclaiming a core consumer base and re-establishing its place in American culture. By that measure, the company’s rebrand couldn’t have been more successful.