SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Social media is buzzing about Budweiser. Just in time for the Summer Olympics and Trump v. Clinton, Anheuser-Busch will temporarily change the name of its flagship brand to “America.” Ironically, the Belgian-owned beer maker will roll out its new cans on Canada's Victoria Day (May 23), asserting Budweiser’s place next to baseball and apple pie until after the presidential election in November. Five marketing professors from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business weigh in on whether the move is smart or foolish.
Downplaying Belgian ties: Professor Jie Zhang says Anheuser-Busch has made a concerted effort to maintain its all-America image in the eyes of U.S. consumers since its 2008 acquisition by InBev, a brewing company with Belgian and Brazilian roots. “The move to temporarily change Budweiser's name to ‘America’ in the coming summer to fall season might sound cheesy, but it’s consistent with the company's overall branding strategy,” she says. “It could generate buzz about the brand and help Budweiser stand out from a crowded field.”
Attention to detail: Professor Mary B. Harms, champion of the school’s Strategic Design and Innovation Fellows program, calls the visual execution of the campaign "masterful." Besides writing “America” in the same script as “Budweiser,” other details reinforce the patriotic message in a playful way without making the brand unrecognizable. The “King of Beers” tagline, for example, is changed to “E Pluribus Unum,” and “AB” is changed to “US.” But the colors and fonts look the same. Even close up, the familiar Budweiser brand comes through. “Their logo is such an icon and has such rich history,” Harms says. “A lesser-known beer might not have the same effect.”
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Healing during wartime: “The change to America is obviously trying to fan the flames of patriotism during a time when the country seems divided because of the extreme partisanship, not just across the two parties but also within each of them,” professor Joydeep Srivastava says. “Further, the Summer Olympics in Rio is also a great opportunity to associate America with Budweiser. It creates an indelible association between America and Budweiser.” He says Coca Cola did something similar when it shipped Coke to all the soldiers during World War II. “Coke became synonymous with home and America,” he says.
Too on the nose: Professor David Godes says Budweiser already has a strong association with the concept of "America," just like Coke, Disney and Chevrolet. “They've built this powerful association through an uncountable array of marketing actions, from the colors on the can to the sponsorship of iconic events like the Super Bowl and the various themes depicted in its ads,” Godes says. But stating the position too "on the nose" can backfire, he says. “There's a big difference between creating an ad with a horse and a puppy — evoking emotional connections to big concepts like friendship and loyalty and rural life — and just telling me that Budweiser equals America.” For starters, Godes says there's a difference between conscious and subconscious processing of information. “When I watch the ad with the horse and puppy, I may not overtly make any connection between the brand and ‘America.’ However, we know that the brain works like a network, connecting concepts instantaneously — from horse and puppy to loyalty to America, without me even knowing. On the other hand, when they tell me directly that I should think of America when I think of Budweiser, my first reaction is ‘Why?’ This approach invites an active, and possibly counter-argumentative, response.” Godes says messages are often more persuasive when stated indirectly. “For years, by creating and running powerful and thoughtful ads, Budweiser has truly been walking the walk,” he says. “I worry that this latest attempt is more about talking the talk.”
The threat of craft beer: Professor William Rand calls the rebranding a “bold marketing move” for Anheuser-Busch. But he says it likely won’t help the company regain the market share lost to an array of craft beer makers. “Beer drinkers in the United States now consume more craft beer — all brands together — than Budweiser,” he says. “The gambit by InBev to remake Budweiser as America's beer, by literally calling it ‘America,’ will primarily appeal to those who drink Budweiser and other mainstream beers, and will probably do well in that market. But it will fail to expand Budweiser's market share among craft beer drinkers, maybe partially since many of them realize that since the purchase of Anheuser-Busch by InBev, Budweiser is no longer even an American beer, but a Belgian one.”