It was reported that “on Wednesday, Miller paid for an airplane to tow a banner over Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis headquarters that read, ‘Sire, sire pants on fire.'” That was the same day a front page Wall Street Journal article appeared in which Anheuser-Busch finally admitted making changes to the formulas for their two most popular products, Budweiser and Bud Light. I just love the idea of this public fracas between the two big American brewing giants devolving to the level of a schoolyard fight. Obviously, Anheuser-Busch has long played the role of bully in this fight and bitter rival (pun intended) SABMiller wasted no time in all but using the “L” word in about as public a way as I can imagine. I presume “sire” is a reference to A-B’s vainglorious claim that they are the king of beers. But it’s still a little odd that Miller didn’t go the extra step to use the “L” word, though of course it was undeniably implied. My only regret is that I haven’t been able to find any photos of the plane flying over the brewery. Surely somebody must have taken a picture of so odd a sight as that.
Two days later Miller ran a full-page ad in USA Today claiming that A-B lied (this time apprently using the “L” word) when it had continually denied that its recipes had been altered over the years.
From the article:
The newspaper story also quoted Anheuser-Busch executives as denying that any changes were made in response to increased sales over the past three years by Miller Lite, Miller Brewing’s No. 1 brand.
The issue first surfaced in November, when Miller began running three TV ads that said Miller Lite has more taste than Bud Light despite changes in Bud Light.
Anheuser-Busch said then it had not changed the beer’s formula, and it complained to TV networks about the commercials.
Miller, however, said last fall it could substantiate its claims through documented increases in “bitterness units,” which measure the amount of hop bitterness in beer.
Advertising Age on Thursday, April 27, the day after the Wall Street Journal expose, ran an article entitled Miller Moves Quickly to Exploit Rival’s Revelation, in which they report that Miller’s ad agency has been challenged to begin using the information revealed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal article as soon as possible, and perhaps as soon as Friday. Apparently Miller’s ad agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, was up to the challenge given the full page ad in Friday’s USA Today.
From the Ad Age article:
The Journal’s report said that, in August 2003, A-B Chairman August Busch III told hops growers in the Pacific Northwest he intended to increase the proportion of hops used in A-B’s beers in order to give the beers more taste after decades of gradually lightening their flavor to adjust to changing consumer tastes. “I told the growers of our desire to use more hops in our brewing for the purpose of delivering more amplitude and hop flavor in Budweiser,” Mr. Busch told the paper.
While brewers tweak their beers all the time, that admission provides significant marketing ammunition for Miller, the No. 2 brewer behind A-B. Miller ran ads in November 2005 saying it detected a “changed” Bud Light, citing increases in bitterness and carbonation. That attack followed a 2004 campaign by Miller claiming its beers had “more taste” than A-B’s.
Funny stuff. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
UPDATE 5.5: I finally found a photo of the banner.
Photo by Bill Stover, Associated Press