Tantillo’s Branding Bite: Budweiser


The Marketing Doctor Asks:
Budweiser –The All-American Belgian Beer?

The announcement yesterday that InBev, the world’s largest brewer, is planning on buying Anheuser-Busch the maker of that All-American beer Budweiser is big news and has got the Marketing Doctor thinking hard about brand.  (Here’s the story on Bloomberg).

Obviously from a purely dollars and cents, financial perspective the deal seems good for Anheuser-Busch.  Investors like it and the stock rose on the news.  It still has some hurdles to jump including approval of regulators, the Busch family and even Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway is the second largest investor in the company.  Still it looks like we’re about to witness the biggest cash takeover ever.

But as I always tell my clients, especially when they’re considering deals that could alter target market perception: Think Brand!  Brand might be one of those “intangibles” that are hard to calculate on a balance sheet, but in the case of Bud, and so many products, it is brand that has built the balance sheet in the first place and it’s brand that will build sales and ensure growth in the future.

My biggest reservation about this deal is how Budweiser’s devoted drinkers are going to take it.  Simply put, I’m not so sure that Budweiser can fly as a foreign-owned beer.  No matter how good InBev is at downplaying their ownership in the marketing, every single Bud drinker will eventually know that their All-American beer is really Belgian owned! 

You probably know my opinion about Superbowl ads being a waste of money (if not see my posts here and my Fox Business appearances here), but there is no denying that the Superbowl is the signature American sporting event and the signature American sponsor of this signature American event is Budweiser.  The American identity and ties of Bud are so deep, wide and established that it would take a book to explore them all!

So Anheuser-Busch has got be very, very careful here.  Foreign-ownership of Bud might be what I like to call a “branding non-negotiable” –that is something so at odds with a brand’s identity that it must be avoided at all costs or the brand might suffer permanent and terminal damage.           

Needless to say, I would do a lot of market research on this deal (hint, get a comprehensive, in-depth sampling of what your target market thinks about Bud becoming Belgian).  I would also get guarantees from InBev –known for smaller marketing budgets— that the Budweiser advertising and marketing machine won’t be downsized.  This is just my humble brand prediction, but Bud is going to need as much help as it can get to maintain and build market share from here if this deal goes through.  

Let’s face it, we Americans (especially those good folks at P&G) discovered the importance of marketing and in my opinion there’s no one who does it better.  So at the very least, St. Louis (not Brussels) is going to have to stay in charge of marketing this grand brand no matter which way the deal ultimately goes.
And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing in mind.


It’s critical to have an eye on the bottom line, but if you’re a brand-driven company it’s even more critical to know the “non-negotiables” of your target market when it comes to your brand.


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