AB InBev Tries a New Strategy in Its War on Craft Beer

AB InBev Tries a New Strategy in Its War on Craft Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

AB InBev has been waging a public war against craft beer on the air waves from as far back as the 2015 Super Bowl. However, attempting to mock craft beer drinkers via commercials that exaggerate the out-of-the-box ingredients in independent beers would have made a lot more sense if they hadn’t been buying up craft breweries in the US, Australia, and United Kingdom at the time.

More recent commercials have focused on meads, since AB InBev doesn’t own a meadery and because mead sales have been on the rise. Once again, this might have worked better for them if they hadn’t insisted on comparing their product to something that is vastly superior. Who knows – maybe their next series of ads will feature Noble laureate scientists explaining how craft beers bring muscle weakness and acne, while mass-produced American light lagers prevent all forms of cancer.

Despite these obviously brilliant marketing efforts, AB InBev has continued to lose market share and sales have slumped. Late in 2017 the company switched CEOs for the US, to no avail. Wine and spirits have been taking a big chunk out the Bud/Bud Lite market, and while craft beer sales growth has slowed a bit, it continues to grow both in terms of product and dollars. Clearly, AB InBev needs a new approach – and now they’re trying one.

Buying up craft breweries was part of a “if you can’t beat them, buy them” strategy; a way to reduce craft beers prices by flooding shelves with reduced priced beers from their faux craft partners, thereby reducing the perceived difference between mega beers and craft. Now AB InBev wants to use those same faux craft breweries as proxy voices for how great their brands really are.

From Ab InBev’s ad for the 2015 Super Bowl, a shot at craft while they were buying craft breweries… hmmm. image credit: Ab InBev via The Business Journals

For this new plan of attack, mega-beer is using a newer platform, Instagram Television (IGTV). The app is designed to show full screen videos and is available to be used by companies and marketers as well as private individuals. Previous Instagram videos were limited to a minute of content, but longer format videos are possible on IGTV. This may be an attempt by AB InBev to reach the younger crowd, those more likely to be abandoning beer for wine and spirits, and the generation that is drinking less alcohol than previous generations.

Going for edgy social media is a deliberate step in this strategy, and it doesn’t stop at IGTV. As reported by the Mobile Marketer website article by Robert Williams on November 5, 2018, the campaign will entail at least twenty different pieces, spread out over Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube and other platforms. Apparently, most people over a certain age (like Walter and I) are not the targets of this promotion.

According to the article, three different videos will be available over time (only one is out as of November 7). The series is called Brewers on Tap (should Indiana On Tap file suit against them?), and seeks to humanize or normalize AB InBev and change opinions on how they seek to dominate all markets of beers, especially as to how they relate to smaller, craft brewers.

To do this, they use a cicerone and former craft beer maven who works for Goose Island (AB InBev-owned) to interview “craft” brewers – all of whom also work for AB InBev breweries. Mark Buford of Blue Point Brewery, Jasper Cuppaidge of Camden Town Brewery in London, and Jaron Mitchell from 4 Pines Brewing in Australia sit around a table with Christina Perozzi and discuss what they see as issues in beer.

The first episode discusses how they got into craft beer, what they see coming soon from their craft breweries, and Buford talks about how much he loves being part of the “craft beer community.” Yet, stuck right in the middle of the three minute video, the host asks if “craft” actually has any meaning anymore, and Mitchell says that the word will probably be gone in two years. Again, they might have made their argument more convincing if they didn’t keep using the word “craft” to describe what these breweries are doing throughout the rest of the video.

Four AB InBev employees sitting around talking about how great AB InBev is. Of course, no where does it say that they work for AB InBev. image credit: AB InBev via Mobile Marketer

Who knows, maybe the word “craft” will indeed fall out of fashion in the next couple of years, but I would predict that a different will be used for the same purpose. BA has chosen the word “independent” as a new identifier, and this very well may catch on as a way imply craft without using the word “craft,” since that word has been co-opted by AB InBev and their faux craft breweries.

Other statements in the first video hint at underlying hopes, paraphrased here from Jaron Mitchell – “the best beer is when people don’t talk about the beer…..if your talking about hops and getting your nose in it, it means you’ve run out of good conversation.” I think this is a thinly veiled shot at people who care about flavors, aromas, and ingredients – basically a “shut up and drink what we give you” kind of argument.

Finally, Jasper Cuppaidge lauds the purchase of faux craft breweries by AB In Bev because, “Finally people are talking about beer again…it’s made us interesting and engaging again.” Really? Nobody was talking about beer until AB InBev decided that they needed to dominate craft?

Future videos will focus on how AB InBev works to help small brewers and such – but it all falls on deaf ears because the message is coming from AB InBev itself. How can they believe that this will be successful – unless… they count on the fact that few people know that these breweries are indeed owned by the mega-brewer.

In conclusion, the new strategy from big beer is to publicly massage their image by saying that big beer is exactly the same as independent beer (which it’s not), but my guess is that this strategy will run concurrently with the mocking mass media ads. If politics shows anything, it’s that negative ads sometimes have an effect. Meanwhile, their behind the scenes actions to suppress craft beer will continue – buying craft brands to subvert the market (now mostly in Australia and other places), buying distributors to control brands that are available in an area, pay for play with retailers and others to illegally promote their own brands, and buying parts of the supply chain (brewing supply stores, hop farms, maltsters) to limit access for craft brewers.

Can all of that be overcome by a couple of interviews where Ab InBev employees talk about how they good they are for “beer,” just plain “beer?” I don’t think so; I’m guessing things will remain much as they have been. Trends will continue, and mega-beer will soon need another new strategy to stop the bleeding. It will be interesting to see what they try next.


banner image credit: Yes! Magazine

No Comments

Post A Comment