The Existential Marketing Crisis of Beer In America

The Existential Marketing Crisis of Beer In America

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems!” – Homer J. Simpson

Sage wisdom from an animated legend. The fact is, booze has always been a profitable, recession-proof market – except maybe during that pesky Prohibition-era speed bump (at least, for anyone without a loaded Tommy Gun). The market is usually thirsty for a libation of some sort, and for Americans, that usually means beer.

As the Uber Driver Apocalypse approaches – otherwise known as “St. Patrick’s Day” – we thought it would be appropriate to take a semi-sober look at beers past and present in marketing. First, a look back at the days of old, when the messaging was a little more… specific.

For example, this commercial for Michelob, which takes place during a friendly game of White Man Cards

Or this commercial for Old Milwaukee, which takes place during a friendly round of White Man Fishing

Or this commercial for Hamm’s, which takes place during a leisurely White Man & Grizzly Bear joyride (naturally)

Okay, so until the mid-to-late 1990’s there was definitely a theme among TV beer ads. The industry has come a long way since then… well, sort of. Although, in Heineken’s defense, they’ve at least gotten better at incorporating the female demographic…

Oh come on… Seriously? Alright, please sit the rest of this blog out, Heineken. SMH.

Clearly, it wasn’t too long ago that Big Beer was the undisputed champion of (white male) American alcohol consumption. Then came the relentless turn-of-the-century Rise Of The Hipsters, and with them, a penchant for more localized craft breweries (and beards and man-buns and e-scooters and my God make it stop) – a trend which has seen Big Beer trying to consume the competition and deceive the market in recent years.

Like some craft-destroying Death Star, evergreen corporate brands such as ANHEUSER-BUSCH INBEV and HEINEKEN INTERNATIONAL (caps are for the Thanos-level of power they wield over us mortals) are absorbing smaller breweries and trying to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers by not being transparent about who owns what.

Case in point: in researching this blog, I came to find that some of my favorite “craft” breweries are actually being puppet-mastered by the Dark Side…

  • Elysian Brewing – maker of my coveted Space Dust IPA – is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev
  • Golden Road Brewing has also been digested by Anheuser-Busch InBev
  • And Lagunitas Brewing has been 50% infiltrated by Heineken International

Mind you, the description for Lagunitas on Wikipedia says they are, “known for iconoclastic interpretations of traditional beer styles, and irreverent descriptive text and stories on its packaging.” So hip, so authentic, so global conglomerate.

Of course, not every craft operation is keen to sell out to Big Beer. Take Stone Brewing, for example. Founded in 1996, Stone built its reputation on independence and are one of the nearly 3,000 U.S. breweries that has adopted the Independent Craft Brewer seal, which was unveiled in 2017.

MillerCoors – owner of Keystone – tried to register a rebranding to just “Stone” years ago and was rejected. Undeterred, MillerCoors had its marketing team produce 30-pack boxes stacked high with nothing but the word ‘STONE’ visible. Same for Keystone’s social media, which almost uniformly dropped the “Key” from its branding in an apparent effort to confuse consumers.

“We will not stand for this kind of overtly and aggressively deceptive advertising,” Stone Brewing CEO Dominic Engels said in a 2018 press release. So, he sued MillerCoors – a lawsuit which seems to be, as of this writing, still pending. Although, based on a failed lawsuit against the company for misrepresenting their Blue Moon label as being “craft,” the odds don’t appear in Stone’s favor.

Mind you, this is just one of many battles being waged for the future of the industry. With the Beer Wars heating up (most recently with the Corn Syrup Siege of 2019) these Davids and Goliaths may not notice the outlier that threatens the entire beer market in general – cannabis. Leave it to those pesky Millennials who I’m always spraying my garden hose at to muck things up! (Yes, I shook my fist in rage as I wrote that).

It turns out these phone-addicted kids with their… their… apps… are leaning towards getting high than drunk, which could undercut the efforts of beer both big and small alike. After all, weed is green, and as legalization sweeps the nation, the next generation could be smoking the leprechaun’s pipe during St. Patrick’s Day than swilling green food-dye in vomit-scented pubs.

But for the time being, beer is still the lifeblood of America, and if anyone claims you’re drinking too much of it, just show them this ad…