Every once in a while, when I’m at a bar and feeling both lazy and sort of cheap, I order a Budweiser. If nothing else, it’s reliable. It tastes slightly better than a light beer. I don’t have to think about it.
I do not consider this a ringing endorsement for the brand. And yet, it seems to be the best message Anheuser-Busch InBev was able to muster for the awful ad it ran during the Super Bowl, which proudly declared Bud a “macro beer”—you know, as opposed to those effete microbrews—and ribbed all those mustachioed hipsters who quaff delicate glasses of “pumpkin peach ale” and such. “It’s not brewed to be fussed over. It’s brewed for a crisp, smooth finish,” the ad tells us, adding, just in case we missed the point: “It’s brewed for drinking. Not dissecting.” Got it. Don’t think too hard about Budweiser. There’s not much going on.
This is a somewhat odd approach to winning over young drinkers, which, presumably, is AB-InBev’s goal. Budweiser’s sales are in decline, in part because, as the Wall Street Journal reported a few months ago, about 44 percent of drinkers between the ages of 21 and 27 have supposedly never tried it. The brand is desperate to court those twentysomethings and seems to think it can do so by rallying them against the cultural tyranny of beer snobbery. Or something. Conor Friedersdorf puts it well at the Atlantic when he writes that “watching Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercials on Sunday, I saw an advertisement far more likely to appeal to my grandfather or father than a typical person of my generation (I’m 35), and even less likely to appeal to Millennials.” Does anybody under the age of 40 care when Budweiser reminds us that it’s the only beer aged with beechwood? Does anybody know what beechwood is or tastes like? Anyone?
Fundamentally, Budweiser is in trouble because, like I wrote a while back, it seems like a beer without a purpose. It packs more calories than a light beer (and more calories than Guinness, for that matter), costs more than truly cheap brews, and is less flavorful than most craft beers.* Its ads are trying to flip all of that to its advantage, turning “disposable and forgettable” into “unfussy,” but instead come off as aggressively insecure, and a bit hypocritical, since AB-InBev owns the much-beloved Chicago craft brewer Goose Island.
Perhaps, then, it could try a different route. A few months ago, chef David Chang of the Momofuku empire wrote a pretty amusing piece for GQ praising cheap, relatively tasteless beers like Budweiser. And he managed to make an incredibly solid point: “It pairs really well with food. All food.” He elaborates:
Think about how well champagne pairs with almost anything. Champagne is not a flavor bomb! It’s bubbly and has a little hint of acid and tannin and is cool and crisp and refreshing. Cheap beer is, no joke, the champagne of beers. And cheap beer and spicy food go together like nothing else. Think about Natty Boh and Old Bay-smothered crabs. Or Asian lagers like Orion and Singha and Tiger, which are all perfect ways to wash down your mapo tofu.
Even the most dedicated beer snob would probably agree. And while none of this applies exclusively to Budweiser, there still might be an ad campaign somewhere in here. “Bud: Tastes good with food” sounds at least a little more promising than what they’ve got now.
Previously in Slate:
- The Seahawks Didn’t Throw Away the Super Bowl
- Why Pete Carroll’s Final Call Was Not as Stupid as it Looked
- Why This Super Bowl Was the Perfect End to a Horrible Season
- The Super Bowl Ad Report Card
*Correction, Feb. 3, 2015: This post originally misspelled Guinness.