Written by Martyn Cornell for Zythophile.wordpress.com
Silly joke: but the fact that even someone with my limited Photoshop skills can knock up an unkind photospoof of AB Inbevâ€™s new â€œentry levelâ€ four per cent alcohol lager for the British market, Bud 66, in 15 minutes suggests the companyâ€™s marketing department didnâ€™t think hard enough about the branding. And my apologies to Stuart MacFarlane, AB Inbevâ€™s UK president: his skinâ€™s not really that colour. (The horns, though â€¦)
The most interesting fact about Bud 66 is not the mockable name, however, nor the fact that you and I, dear reader, wonâ€™t like it (since the maker describes it as a â€œlightly carbonated lagerâ€ brewed with a â€œtouch of sweetness for a smooth easy tasteâ€ and â€œtargeted at the early 20s marketâ€, which translates as â€œfizzy, over-sugary and bland, and designed for people we think donâ€™t know anything about beerâ€ â€“ if I were in my early 20s Iâ€™d be extremely insulted that InBev thinks this is the sort of stuff Iâ€™d like to drink.)
Nor is it the way that the company attempts to present blatantly copying Beckâ€™s Vier and Stella Artois 4% as â€œanother example of innovation by AB InBevâ€. Rather, itâ€™s that InBev feels it has to enter this category with Bud at all, with MacFarlane describing the launch as InBevâ€™s â€œmost important business action in 2010.â€
Now, one of the ways that brand marketing is like warfare is that you have to protect your flanks: so while Budweiser is still fighting a straightforward battle in the â€œpremiumâ€ (that is, 5 per cent alcohol) market with Beckâ€™s and Stella (even though those two are also owned by InBev), the two â€œEuropeanâ€ brands are threatening Bud with a flanking movement from what is now known as the â€œstandard premiumâ€ side, the 4 per cent versions of the same brands.
The Bud marketers fear that drinkers of 5 per cent Budweiser who are wanting something lighter that they can drink for a little longer in the evening without falling over will turn to Beckâ€™s Vier or Stella Artois 4%, and then, when they want to go back to the stronger stuff, itâ€™ll be full-strength Beckâ€™s or Stella they will pick up, rather than returning to full-strength Bud. So to try to prevent that, and to protect against people like Coors or Heineken offering a 4 per cent â€œbrand extensionâ€ of a stronger beer to tempt Bud drinkers, theyâ€™re spending millions developing and promoting Bud 66, just in time for the World Cup.
That, you may think, is all poot, and not worth bothering about if you donâ€™t care for mass-produced lager. But itâ€™s worthy of note, I suggest, that Beckâ€™s Vier and Stella Artois 4% have been successful enough for InBev to feel the need to bring out a four per cent version of Bud. Are younger drinkers turning in crowds to weaker beers? The arrival of Bud 66, and the apparent success of Beckâ€™s Vier and Stella Artois 4% suggests InBev marketers think they are, or are likely to. That would be something to celebrate (apart from the welcome social aspect of fewer drunks at 11.30pm): much excellent craft beer is pitched in strength closer to four per cent than five, and itâ€™s an easier step, I suggest, to convert people from something tasteless and weak to something tasty and weak, than from something tasteless but strong.
Turning to the subject of tasty lager, Iâ€™m delighted to see the arrival of a new lobby group called, appropriately, LOBI â€“ Lager of the British Isles â€“ which is designed, according to its website, to â€œpromote awareness of lager that is produced within the British Isles by independent breweries â€“ breweries who promise to hand craft unpasteurised lager using honest ingredients (no rice or maize) with decent maturation periods.â€ Hurrah for that.
But I donâ€™t understand why, if theyâ€™re called Lager of the British Isles, the map on their website only shows the United Kingdom: even the Isle of Man is missing. And Iâ€™m disappointed that they repeat the canard that the first lager brewery in the UK was the Anglo-Bavarian brewery in Shepton Mallet. As I said here, despite its name, there is no evidence that the Anglo ever brewed lager. You can read an extremely interesting report on the Vienna Universal Exhibition of 1873, with a description of the Anglo-Bavarian Breweryâ€™s beers and how they fared, here, which makes it clear they didnâ€™t brew lager. And you can read a full history of lager brewing in the UK in Amber Gold and Black, the definitive bible on beer styles in Britain, available to purchase here.