Budweiser goes from ‘not imported’ to immigrant success story for spot in Super Bowl 2017
A lot can happen in a year. During the Super Bowl in 2016, the world was a markedly different place. Among other things, Europe was far more unified prior to Brexit, and Donald Trump was a long shot to become the Republicans’ Presidential nominee. Yet there was tension surrounding the increasingly vulnerable position so many people in developed countries like the US had been experiencing due to a plethora of societal transformations.
Take for instance people’s growing concerns about technological shifts. The rise of artificial intelligence was one of the more visible pressure points, with innovators and visionary thinkers as varied as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk flagging concerns around the risks our societies (and potentially species) face in barreling down the path towards the singularity. Interrelated – and closer to home for many with lower skill bases – were concerns about the impacts automation will have on job markets.
When you add these factors to the phenomenon known as the ‘Great Convergence’ -- in which newly industrializing countries continue to draw level with their developed counterparts, arguably to many in the latter group’s economic detriment – it’s of little surprise that we have seen a pronounced rise in protectionist, nationalistic sentiment.
It was in this environment, at 2016’s Super Bowl 50, that Budweiser made a bold play. Eschewing a lighthearted approach to their big Super Bowl ad, Bud got serious with “Not Backing Down”, a strong slot showcasing the brand’s status as a proud, enduring traditional American Macro brew. With muscular Clydesdales on the charge and tight staccato horn stabs amongst other powerful, masculine imagery, this combative war cry from Bud featured key lines like ‘Not Imported’, ‘Not Soft’, ‘Not Following’ and ‘Not For Everyone’. Of course, a surface analysis would suggest the brand was just asserting itself against its craft beer competitors, which have been steadily nipping away at Budweiser’s market share for a good while now. Yet in reality, the brand was doing much more than this. Budweiser tapped into a deeper cultural narrative of reclaiming power through drawing a line, aggressively reassertingstrength, stability, and belonging within a world that is seemingly beyond out of control.
The play was a good one for Bud’s bottom line. Bud’s US Vice President Brian Perkins said the work delivered “the best results on the brand … in 14 years”.
This makes 2017’s slot an interesting one. ‘Born the Hard Way’ tells the story of Adolphus Busch immigrating to America prior to starting Anhueser-Busch. Meeting with his fair share of adversity along the way, Busch ends up meeting Anhueser at a bar, and the pair plot the future of Budweiser over a beer before the spot finishes with the tagline “When nothing stops your dream, this is the beer we drink”.
The ad’s political undertones aren’t hard to read. With the Trump administration attempting to limit immigration, there’s no doubt the ad is both topical and contentious. It’s another bold play by a brand aligning its heritage and equity with a powerful national ideology, one that embraces those who come from abroad to forge a better life and pursue their dreams.
Signs of the storm were evident when in the leadup to the big game, Budwieser Vice President of Marketing Ricardo Marques was forced to come out and defend the piece insisting that it was not intended as a political commentary, and that the company “believe this is a universal story that is very relevant today because probably more than [at] any other period in history today the world pulls you in different directions, and it’s never been harder to stick to your guns.” Yet by Sunday night, there was a visible backlash with the hashtags #boycottbudweiser (along with the misspelled #boycottbudwiser) starting to trend on Twitter. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out for Bud, in addition to it’s larger impact on the broader social discussion on migration in coming weeks.
As marketers, it’s an important reminder that you can’t necessarily be all things to all people, and that trying to dramatically reframe what you stand for is littered with risks – even if it appears worthwhile to make the jump. Ultimately, slower, incremental shifts are worth considering when moving a brand into a territory that sits in a contradictory space to what the brand has previously stood for, in order to reduce friction with loyalists and reduce perceptions of inauthenticity.
It’s also a timely reminder of the responsibilities that brands have given they not only have the capacity to harness culture in order to forge meaningful connections with consumers, but that indeed brands have the power to reinscribe cultural values and ideologies in the ways they communicate and behave.
- Article by Daniel Bluzer-Fry