USA Today is reporting that Anheuser-Busch InBev‘s plan to reverse slumping sales trends is to give away their beer. Not all of it, of course, but part of a new marketing barrage to begin next Monday includes stepping up sampling significantly, to record levels of free beer giveaways.
According to the article, Latest ad strategy to freshen Budweiser’s image: Free beer, by Bruce Horovitz, ABI is poised to “announce plans to push free beer and a hipper Bud image to younger beer drinkers over the next several weeks” in an effort to reach the under-30 crowd growing up under the influence of the more flavorful and more local craft beer segment.
The new marketing campaign will feature the tagline Grab Some Buds, a phrase ABI has applied to trademark, and starting Monday, Budweiser “will unleash its biggest-ever national free-sample effort in trendy bars and eateries.”
From the USA Today article:
The hype culminates on Sept. 29, when the brand hosts the “Budweiser National Happy Hour,” a bid by Bud to nudge folks to at least try a free brewski. The free samples for those 21 and up range from 6 ounces to 12 ounces, depending on state and local rules.
At issue: a brand that’s lost mojo. Bud unit sales were down 9% last year and are down the same this year, says Beverage Marketing Corp. Beer drinkers have lost loyalty to Bud for the past seven years, research firm Brand Keys reports. Bud’s ranking among national product brands slipped from 16th in 2003 to 220th in 2010.
Here’s their four-prong approach:
- Sampling. A-B will hand out 500,000 samples by mid-October.
- Facebook. Bud plans to partner with Facebook so folks turning age 22 and up can get a free beer on birthdays.
- New ads. Ads air Saturday about anticipating good times with Bud.
- Focus. A-B will focus 95% of TV ad time on Bud Sept. 25 to Oct. 3.
The article concludes doubtfully, with “Brand consultant Robert Passikoff [expressing] serious doubts about Budweiser’s effort. ‘They’re in trouble because they don’t know how to talk to consumers,’ he says. ‘They no longer know how to create an emotional bond.'”
Frankly, I think they’re in trouble because they’re not keeping up with what customers want. All their “fixes” for dwindling sales (though to be fair sales are still ginormous) involve the same old tried and true marketing tricks that have seen them through the last half-century. Sampling, new ads and more TV spending are hardly revolutionary, and neither is finally trying to figure out how to use Facebook.
ABI is losing the battle for customers perceiving them as a patriotically American company, however jingoistic and emotional that is. They’ve also taken hits for the way they’ve treated employees — laying off hundreds (is it thousands yet?) — and keeping the remaining ones fearful for the next round of layoffs and working many jobs and too many hours. They’ve also taken a hit for asking suppliers to wait as long as four months to be paid.
ABI could produce beer every bit as flavorful as the best craft beer, but they wouldn’t know how to sell it. It’s not their business model. ABI president Dave Peacock thinks sampling will work, of course. “‘When we get the trial, we find we have a positive result,’ Peacock says.” But I honestly can’t see how sampling will be a positive experience for young people that recognize there are more flavorful alternatives to mass-produced American-style light lagers.
I think the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, provides a useful analogy. If we think of flavor as clothing, sampling young people on Budweiser will only serve to reinforce that indeed the Emperor has no clothes.