To start talking about Anhesuer-Busch’s first big ad campaign since acquiring the Rolling Rock brand, you first should see the first volley, this “beer ape” commercial. Go ahead, press play. I’ll wait.
The next commercial on television now features a Ron Stablehorn apologizing for the ad you just watched as being offensive to the “Friends of Rolling Rock.” And you can see why, the ad is about as offensive as any other A-B ad I’ve seen. But if you didn’t already see it coming, the whole thing is a sham, a put-on, a con job — use whatever phrase you like — it’s a fake controversy created as a part of a more complicated ploy. There is no Ron Stablehorn and no “Friends of Rolling Rock” organization. The irony I think is that there truly are no friends of Rolling Rock left after A-B’s controversial decision to not purchase the Latrobe Brewery where Rolling Rock had been brewed since 1939 and move production to Newark, New Jersey. Maybe it’s just me, but a pretend controversy just months after a real one in which the Latrobe Brewery closed and hundreds of workers have been unemployed since late July, seems a tad insensitive to me. I realize the brewery has been sold and should reopen, but that doesn’t change the fact that an entire town was effected by A-B’s decision not to buy the brewery in Latrobe.
Apparently I’m not the only one, either as an article in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review makes clear.
From the article:
Kelley Skoloda, a partner at Ketchum Communications, Downtown, said viral marketing generates attention for a company by using outrageous, ludicrous or funny images, which create buzz and give consumers something to talk about. It typically resonates with the coveted Gen Y demographic, and is meant to spread organically, from friend to friend, rather than through a spokesman with an agenda.
But Skoloda and Robert Gilbert, professor of marketing at the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh, agreed that the beer ape-bumbling executive campaign will get a much different response in Western Pennsylvania, since this summer Anheuser-Busch shuttered the Latrobe brewery, home of Rolling Rock beer for nearly 70 years.
Skoloda also said that “from what she’s seen of the campaign, most people don’t think it’s all that funny. I think the key to creating a viral campaign is transparency,” she said. “It may not be as clear as it needs to be with this campaign.”
Gilbert added that the campaign “is probably a whole lot less offensive than taking their jobs away from them. I’m not sure the people at Anheuser-Busch are getting great joy throwing salt in the wound, I just think it never dawned on them.” It may not give them great joy, but they do seem to do it an awful lot. See for example, my previous rant about that very issue, in which I even used the exact same language.
Tom Marflak, the mayor of Latrobe, Pennsylvania (and now a Coors Light drinker), had this to say:
“They destroyed this city. It was a total slap in the face when they came in here, and just bought everything, even the green bottles.”
It’s funny how good A-B’s advertisers are at doing an ad with no substance that’s designed to be just slightly offensive, just enough so that they’d be convinced it was possible that viewers less enlightened then they are could find it offensive but without finding it offensive themselves. That’s a pretty thin tightrope to walk. Did they succeed? Apparently half-a-million visitors have gone to Rolling Rock’s website to learn more about the supposed controversy, so yeah, people really are that gullible.
Another oddity about the new ad campaign is the way they’re framing the kind of beer Rolling Rock is, which the ads describe as a “classic extra pale lager with a rich tradition.” First, I don’t see how you call something that’s “extra pale” a classic, but perhaps that’s my own prejudice. Pale is defined as “lacking intensity of color; colorless or whitish.” How can something have an “extra” lack of color or be “extra” white? Next, invoking a “rich tradition” is weird when you consider Rolling Rock’s richest tradition is that the beer came “from the glass-lined tanks of old Latrobe,” a tradition A-B dismantled when they moved production to the next state over.
Is this a dignified way for A-B to rebuild the brand after buying it? Over the years they’ve used horses, frogs, dogs, lizards and now an ape to promote one of their brands so it’s certainly fits with their pattern of ad campaigns. They’re going after young twenty-somethings, obviously, and I realize the “beer ape” is not really a spokes-animal for Rolling Rock (unless of course, it proves popular) but it’s hardly an audacious beginning. I would have expected something aimed above the level of primates, but maybe that’s the demographic A-B is going after: people who closely identify themselves with apes. Was Jane Goodall at that pool party?