For amber barley waves,
For golden fountain majesties
Above the hop-filled plains!
America! America! InBev brews for thee,
To fill thy stein with liquor fine
From sea to wining sea!
If this adaptation of “American the Beautiful” sounds like sacrilege, you may have similar misgivings about the latest rebranding of the world’s largest brewery. AB InBev, the parent of major beers like Bud Light, Corona, and Beck’s, has decided to temporarily tweak the label of its signature brand. Between May 23 and the November elections, the company plans to replace the name “Budweiser” on its iconic cans and bottles with the word “America.”
Why the significant switch? According to USA Today, “With Americans participating in the Olympics and a presidential election in full swing, the company believes it’s the perfect time to salute the United States with the new cans.”
This isn’t the first time the giant brewer has sought to position its product using patriotism. Past Budweiser cans have featured American flags and the Statue of Liberty. In addition to the current name change, the new cans also will include lyrics from The Star Spangled Banner and lines from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Given its practice of patriotic promotion, it’s fair to ask to whether Budweiser is truly trying to distill national pride, or if it just realizes that an easy way to turn a buck is to “throw some America on it.” Of course, the real motives of individuals and organizations are difficult to determine, but here are four reasons why we should be skeptical of Budweiser branding its brew “America.”
1. Foreign Ownership: Budweiser is no longer an American owned company. In July 2008, Belgium-based InBev bought Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion, creating AB InBev. The company’s global headquarters is located in Leuven, Belgium. True, Anheuser-Busch has a long history in the U.S., but things are different now that title has transferred to the other side of the Atlantic. One might wonder how Europeans would feel if the Coca-Cola Company captioned its cans “Belgium,” “Germany,” or “France.”
2. Youth Appeal? Patriotism is for everyone; it has no age restrictions. Alcohol, on the other hand, cannot be legally consumed by Americans under age 21, other than for some specific state exceptions. So, while we may want to nurture our children’s nationalism, we can’t encourage them to grab a can of “America” even if they’re old enough to vote for the next president. Unfortunately, however, novelty packaging like Budweiser’s or Snickers changing its candy bar wrappers to words like rebellious, spacey, and grouchy, probably appeal more to younger consumers.
3. “Pour” Associations: Sure, when consumed in moderation, beer can be connected with positive social experiences, like watching the big game with friends. There’s also the dark reality, though, that alcohol is a drug and that it is “the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States.” Furthermore, the outcomes of alcohol abuse include such rampant problems as disease, violence, and drunk driving, which Budweiser spokesperson Helen Mirren, “a notoriously frank and uncensored British lady,” ironically and caustically criticized during the most recent Super Bowl. So, perhaps the tagline for the patriotism-based promotion should be, “Budweiser, as American as Alcoholism.”
4. Respectable or Spectacle? Ultimately, the question comes back to whether Budweiser’s rebranding represents national veneration or denigration. The reasons listed above already seem to lean to the latter. Moreover, it’s hard to take seriously the intentions of a firm that has featured the former governor of California as a ping-pong-playing caricature of himself in a Bud Light ad with the slogan “Up for Whatever Happens Next.” Yes, it’s nice when we can laugh with and perhaps even at our leaders, but what impact does such irreverence have on people’s overall perceptions of politicians and the political process? Speaking of spectacles, it may be telling that Donald Trump has taken credit for the beer’s name change, suggesting that Budweiser was influenced by his own appeal to “Make America Great Again.”
America owes its success in large part to countless companies that satisfy consumers' needs and provide meaningful employment. Some of those businesses have co-branded themselves with the name of their country (e.g. American Airlines, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), and American Express). These firms’ use of national identify was first very practical—the name represented their location. More importantly, however, their use seemed to be born out of reverence and a long-term commitment, not a flippant short-term promotion.
One of the greatest things about America is that it affords individuals and organizations opportunities to do things they couldn’t do anywhere else. That freedom also should inspire genuine respect for the name of the country where such opportunities abound. Unfortunately, Budweiser's rebranding doesn't demonstrate that respect and is unlikely to result in any significant increase in stakeholder value. For these reasons, beer cans labeled "America" represent a complete case of "Mindless Marketing."