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    Tom Dougherty CEO, Stealing Share

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Budweiser giving away beer and its brand

Budweiser1So, it’s free beer now..

Budweiser has announced a plan to market its beer by giving away free samples at trendy bars and restaurants. It seems as though Budweiser’s sales have fallen off (down around 9%) and it is now looking for a way to gain back some of the losses. To entice a younger generation to the brand, Bud will evoke the college mantra of “Free Beer.”

From a brand perspective, this is pure foolishness. I can only assume that Bud is giving away free beer to show how good Bud tastes. Well, I have conducted enough research with beers to know that the brand of beer one drinks has very little to do with taste. In blind taste tests, beer drinkers who swear that Miller Lite is the only brand of beer they will drink cannot tell the difference between Miller Lite, Bud Lite and Coors Lite. They may be able to identify that there is a difference in taste. But, in most cases, they cannot even identify  their preferred brand.

The point here is that taste is not that important, in terms of switching triggers. People generally like the way their current beer of choice tastes. Have you ever heard of someone sitting at the local tavern, finish off a beer and say, “Bartender, that was the worst tasting beer I have ever had, may I please have another?”

Sorry, Bud, taste alone will not carry the day.

In the case of a microbrew drinker, Bud is even more at a disadvantage. For these drinkers, they believe there is status in drinking microbrews. It is difficult for me to imagine one of these beer drinkers switching loyalties because of a free taste of Budweiser.

Perhaps Budweiser believes it has an awareness problem. That, of course, is nonsense. My guess is that practically everyone who drinks beer knows Budweiser and its brands. Awareness is not the problem.

This is really about Budweiser losing its brand. This free beer gimmick is the result of marketing and advertising folks throwing up their hands saying, “I give up!” Ask yourself this question: “What is the strategy behind this  promotion?” Is there one or is Budweiser fooling itself into believing that if drinkers could just taste how good our beer is more people will drink it. (Boy, that sounds an awful lot like credit unions that say, “If people really saw how friendly we were they would join us.”)

As is usually the case, the problem is about meaning. To the younger generation, Budweiser has little meaning beyond heritage and even less relevance. The younger generation is having trouble relating to the brand because Budweiser has let the brand exist without working on its brand meaning, which is unusual for it. Budweiser has often been one of the strongest brands in the world, but it has gotten lazy in recent years with its leadership position.

Great brands are able to grow and reposition themselves based on the market pressures and changes. Budweiser is in terrific position to update its brand for the younger target audiences.

The free beer promotion just may give Budweiser a lift, but it is not a long-term value increasing proposition. In fact, a strong argument could be made that giving away free Budweiser beer actually weakens the Budweiser brand (free beer = cheap beer?). This gimmick by Budweiser will create some buzz, but unfortunately it will be as a result of an empty beer glass and not Budweiser’s marketing efforts.

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