Selling beer is a funny business, or so it would seem, as Bud Light's recent struggles are being pinned on its shift away from humor-laden commercials and into a more serious bent focused on "drinkability." AdAge reports today that the one-time powerhouse brand has seen its first sales slip in 27 years—and the marketing is partly to blame.
The first half of this year saw a sales slide of 3% for Bud Light, kind of a big deal for a brand that's never known from downturns. For most of its 27-year history, Bud Light has been marketed in the U.S. with a very light-hearted angle, matching a philosophy that people who drink light beer like to have fun.
But Bud Light is facing a dreaded generation gap as it reaches the age where younger beer drinkers see Bud Light as what their parents drink and seek out a brand it can call its own. Everyone from Gap to Coca-Cola to perhaps most famously, Oldsmobile, has dealt with this problem in its history, reinventing its brand for a new demographic without alienating its core base of customers. (Apple, it seems, is the only brand that can be cool for both teens and their parents.)
Bud Light thought it had the answer in "Drinkability," a phrase that's been on the beer's label for a while, and the company's CEO Dave Peacock has noted that it ties with consumer research showing it was Bud Light's "sweet spot" as not too heavy to drink, and not too light and watery.
But apparently "drinkability" stinks. It's not reaching the target audience, resulting in that 3% slide, as well as producing a 7% drop-off in July 4 holiday sales and a reduced (and more negative) online chatter about the brand.
Taking a step back, it's obvious why. While today's young beer drinker is likely to be more media savvy, and advertising sensitive, the old tricks still apply. Who on earth can get an emotional buy-in to "drinkability"? Emotional ad placements are a different beast—you don't mind having someone promote their beer to you if you get a laugh out of it, just as you don't mind having Coke aggressively promote itself during the holiday season because the ad spots just might give you a fuzzy Christmas feeling. But drinkability is, essentially, meaningless. It's a buzzword, which by definition is not funny.
Anheuser-Busch has apparently acknowledged its mistake with the sensitive dynamics of big-brand advertising. Hence it's modifying the future Bud Light ad spots to be more light-hearted, and though they'll still "reference drinkability, [...] it won't be as drinkability heavy."
Sitting over here in Europe, where the real beer comes from, we don't have any such worries, of course. Anheuser is going to have to work damn hard to beat clever ads like this:
[via Ad Age]