Budweiser’s latest stroke of marketing genius isn’t just about appealing to America, it’s about becoming America — literally. With Donald Trump’s impending Republican Presidential bid, the NFL season and key U.S. national holidays all on the near horizon, the Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch could not have picked a better time to pledge their allegiance. And as Canadians, we should applaud them for it.
The rebranding effort will change Budweiser’s current design to make it, well, more American. The brand will swap out “Budweiser” for “America” and insert patriotic excerpts from the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” onto cans and bottles. It even goes so far as to declare itself “indivisible since 1776” — despite the fact Budweiser has only been around since 1876. The campaign, which is dubbed “America is in Your Hands” (because of course it is), begins May 23 and will last until the U.S. Presidential election in November.
The beer company’s brand has always dominated America’s biggest sports and sporting events. “The Budweiser Clydesdales” are revered as Super Bowl commercial icons with a legacy comparable to NFL players like Joe Montana. And at one time Bud was the official beer of the NFL’s sporting rival in terms of popularity, NASCAR.
These linkages have always placed Budweiser at the top of the heap when talking about “America’s beer,” but the beer and sports relationship is getting tired. If brands want to differentiate, they have to think bigger, something Bud is proving wiser to as they move beyond the sports comfort zone and into the political playing field.
With slogans like “Make America Great Again” floating around, Budweiser’s “America” campaign, in all its patriotic glory, could easily be misconstrued as something cooked up by the Trump 2016 campaign rather than a foreign brewery. Budweiser likely wasn’t surprised when Trump himself came out to take credit for the campaign: “They’re so impressed with what our country will become that they decided to do this before the fact.” With recognition like this from the biggest name in the American political fray, Budweiser is adding a feather to its branding cap and making waves outside the usual wheelhouse of beer branding — something no other major beer-makers can say they’re doing.
For us north of the border, national pride and braggadocio are often scoffed at rather than embraced (just think about that person you know with the Canadian flag tattoo everyone secretly makes fun of). Budweiser’s in-your-face patriotism in branding is perceived as laughable at best and cringeworthy at worst because of this attitude. But the beer-maker’s approach is one that should be admired, not criticized for its directness and ambition.
Companies frequently attempt to evoke national pride through slogans, campaigns and brand names, but we rarely see a company use so little restraint when doing so as Budweiser is, especially in Canada. Currently, Tim Hortons is promoting two new maple-themed beverages and are marketing them as “so obviously Canadian that we can’t help but apologize for not thinking of it sooner.” This roundabout — to the point of apologetic — approach of appealing to Canadian-isms is pathetic. We are a nation and a people that beats-around-the-bush when it comes to our national pride and for those sins we get painful ads like this.
Budweiser is doing what other brands will wish they had done sooner. We live in a time where many Americans are drinking back the political Kool-Aid of wall building and Muslim-banning and overt displays of American-ness (think F16s and fireworks over Cowboys Stadium) are endorsed with thunderous applause. Budweiser isn’t apologizing or backing away from those realities; it is embracing the times and planting its flag on uncharted, branding territory — which is certainly more than the creatively barren marketing those at Tim Hortons can say. From sea to shining sea, Budweiser’s message is beautifully clear: we are “America” — fuck yeah.