Budweiser re-branding as “America:” A case study

budweiser re-branding

By Mark Schaefer

When I saw photos of the new Budweiser “America” can coming through my news stream, I thought it had to be a sarcastic piece from The Onion. But no, it’s true. Budweiser, a beer brand owned by a Belgian company, will temporarily appear on shelves this summer with a new name: America.

This is a company I know well. For four years I sold packaging into Anheuser-Busch at a rate of about $1 billion per year (A-B buys a LOT of packaging!). I worked with people at the executive level, at the breweries, and even creative. So I thought it would be fun to look at this as a marketing case study. Will this bold marketing move be a stroke of genius or simply grist for jokes?


Budweiser is one of the top-selling beers in the United States and has been brewed in St. Louis since the 1800s. Its owner, Anheuser-Busch, is based in St. Louis and was sold to InBev in 2008 for about $52 billion.

It is an iconic brand but it has struggled for the past 25 years as young drinkers opt for craft brews and cocktails over “The King of Beers.”  The company’s controversial “Brewed the Hard Way” ad, launched during the 2015 Super Bowl, criticized craft brewers for making beer to be fussed over while Bud brewed beer “for drinking.”

The company hired spokespeople like Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan to try to appeal to this younger drinker.

Budweiser is also famous for its ads featuring puppies and its iconic Clydesdale horse team but research showed that the people who love those images the most don’t necessarily drink their beer. They have been re-tooling their horse images to be less cuddly and more masculine to appeal to their core beer-drinking customers.

budweiser re-branding

Budweiser has long been an advertising innovator but has had a series of fiascos in the last five years, including criticism that it was tone-deaf toward alcohol’s role in date rape. Last year, as part of its “Up for Whatever” campaign, the beer company printed on some of its labels: “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night.” After an online firestorm, the company apologized and dropped the slogan.

In short, what has been traditionally a brand strength — advertising firepower — has been problematic in recent years.

Will the new campaign work?

To look at this from a business standpoint, we must first suspend our beliefs about the quality of the beer. The fact is, Budweiser is one of top five most popular beers in the world. So deal with it. Let’s talk marketing.

The main issue for Budweiser is that since the InBev deal, they have had a series of missteps but with the shots against craft beers, embracing spontaneity, and the re-imagining of the Clydesdales, they seem to be focusing on their core customer. Here is a view of the Bud customer from a psychographic study of personalities and beer brands:

Bud drinkers are sensible, grounded and practical. They are the polar opposite of daydreamers and don’t easily get carried away. These beer drinkers also don’t like authority—can anyone say union?—and are emotionally steady people who live in the here and now. However, what may be a bit surprising is that people who prefer Bud can also be very spontaneous and tend not to do much advance planning. Budweiser drinkers are 42% more likely to drive a truck than the average person, 68% more likely to choose a credit card with flexible payment terms and 42% more likely to use breath-freshening strips every day.

So, the core Bud target customer is a spontaneous unionized truck driver who wants to drink beer on a budget. In other words, Budweiser is the Trump of Beers.

In this light, it is wholly confusing why Bud ads always seem to look like this:

budweiser re-branding

Just seems like they are pushing beer uphill by positioning themselves as the beer of the Millennials. So, it was time for Bud to go back to the core with a campaign like “America is in your hands.”

The risks

There has already been pushback from people who see this as a cheesy and cheap grab for nostalgia. And literally, it is cheap. They didn’t have to pay any kind of copyright licensing for “America.” There has also been some outcry that some of the words on the can from “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie were originally meant to be a protest song. He is probably turning in his grave with these words being used to shill beer.

There is also the irony that a Belgium beer company is touting itself as the “America” beer. They are setting themselves up for criticism and counter-advertising from American-owned competitors.

Another risk is consumer confusion. The design raises the question: When a thirsty American goes to the store looking for Budweiser, would he or she be confused upon encountering “America” instead?

And of course there is a risk is parody, and worse. When a top global brand makes a bold marketing move like this, it is sure to be the target of late-night talk show jabs. Worse, what happens when we see photos of homeless people drinking “America” or America beer cans littering our highways?

The analysis

I believe in the end all of this outfall will probably happen, and none of it will matter. A-B has made a bold move to make an emotional connection between their iconic logo and nationalist pride in the year of the Olympics and a presidential election. That is a wow.

It also represents an important re-connection with their core audience. A unionized truck driver loves America and is proud of America. It reinforces the idea that he (and mainly it is “he”) has made the right beverage choice because this is the beverage of his country, which is what he always believed.

Yes, there will be a backlash (from people who don’t drink the beer any way). Yes, competitors and comedians will take their shots … it’s already happening:

Screenshot 2016-05-12 08.42.25

But re-naming your product for the summer is a powerful, unique and conversational idea that is already creating HUGE impressions on the web. Pictures of the new packages are showing up everywhere before they have even been released. Most important, it re-connects the brand to an emotion with their core audience. I think the core consumers will love this … and does anything else matter?

I think the Budweiser re-branding is a powerful and winning idea. How about you?


SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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