Budweiser Takes a Shot at Craft Beer in Super Bowl Ad, Faces Pumpkin Peach Blowback

A screen capture from the Budweiser ad.
A screen capture from the Budweiser ad.

As always, there was plenty to talk about before, during and after the Super Bowl, from football to the halftime show to the commercials. But one of this year's Budweiser ads drew special attention from the 3,200 craft breweries across the country -- and the people who drink their beer.

"Brewed the Hard Way," as the ad is called (see the video on the next page), begins with the words, "Proudly a macro beer" spelled out on the screen, followed by a shot of a bearded fellow sniffing a glass of dark beer and the words, "It's not brewed to be fussed over." The ad continues with a shot of three hip-looking fellows with tasting glasses and the words, "It's brewed for drinking, not dissecting."

See also: How Great Divide and Sam Adams Decided Not to Fight Over the Whitewater Beer Name

And then comes the kicker: "Let them drink their pumpkin peach ale. We'll be brewing us some golden suds."

A direct shot at the ever-expanding craft brewing industry, the ad struck a nerve with beer drinkers who took to social media in droves to point out the significant ironies that it contained.

The biggest of these is that Anheuser Busch, which makes Bud, announced last week that it had purchased Elysian Brewing in Seattle, which just so happens to make a pumpkin peach (and pecan) ale, says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, the Boulder-based trade group that represents the craft-brewing industry. (A-B also recently bought 10 Barrel, an Oregon craft brewer.)

But Elysian will have plenty of company in the next few weeks, as numerous craft breweries, including at least five six in Colorado (Caution, Station 26, Chain Reaction, Mu Brewery, Elk Mountain, and Dad & Dude's), have now pledged to brew their own pumpkin peach ales; Elk Mountain is making its version today, a five-gallon batch using snow melt and ingredients the brewery had on hand.

In addition, someone created a @pumpkinpeachale Twitter handle while another person input a fake entry for Pumpkin Peach Ale in the Untappd beer recording app.

There were other ironies, including the fact that although Bud owns the exclusive rights to national beer ads during the game, the company essentially spent its money promoting craft brewers. "By hating on craft, it did kind of add legitimacy to it to some degree," Gatza says. Even the largest craft breweries would never be able to afford that kind of publicity.

Budweiser Takes a Shot at Craft Beer in Super Bowl Ad, Faces Pumpkin Peach Blowback
This screen capture from the ad looks very similar to....

It also made A-B look like it is running scared. In November, the Wall Street Journal published a report titled "Bud Crowded Out By Craft Beer Craze," which pointed out numbers from Beer Marketer's Insights showing that "Budweiser has a 7.6 percent share of the $100 billion U.S. beer market, down from 10 percent five years ago, and 14.4 percent a decade ago."

Craft brewers, meanwhile, saw an 18 percent growth by volume through June 2014, continuing a trend of double-digit increases.

Another irony is the fact that A-B has made a point in the past few years of showing how much work -- or "fussing" -- goes into making its beer, and spent a lot of time promoting its quality and craftsmanship.

Those efforts include the "Track Your Bud" campaign, which introduces consumers to Bud brewmasters around the country; as well as the company's blog, which offers tasting notes and photos of Bud employees tasting beers in much the same way as the guys in the "Brewed the Hard Way" ad.

"One of the ways we ensure the customer is going to get a great beer is through sensory analysis," the blog reads. "Our Brewmasters have tasted our beer at least seven times throughout the 30 day process of brewing and aging Budweiser before it is approved to be enjoyed by our consumers.

... this photo from A-B's own blog.
... this photo from A-B's own blog.
Anheuser Busch web site

"First, we pour the beer into a pristine clear glass. We look for good foam retention, and check for color and clarity...Next, we analyze the aroma of the beer...assessing the aromatic flavors from the malt, the yeast, and the hops," the post continues, before describing the rest of the process in detail.

But the Super Bowl ad ignores all of that, and appears to insult Bud's own quality standards and procedures. "I saw some industry reports afterward, and one person was making the point that the message they got was that Budweiser consumers don't care how their beer tastes," Gatza says.

"It seemed that it was a little bit of a risk to try to separate beer drinkers and basically criticize a group of them," he adds. "Maybe it is a strategy that can work, but it seems kind of risky."


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