Is The Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors Beer War A Race To The Bottom?

Bud, Is The Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors Beer War A Race To The Bottom?

Is the Bud Light knight down for the count?

That’s what one ad industry executive thinks. As what started with a Bud Light Super Bowl ad has turned into a full-fledged Big Beer range war…

What for years might have been described as an “enforced détente” between the world’s biggest brewers, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors has gone HOT, with planned alliances breaking down and both companies jumping ugly with each other.

Bud, Is The Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors Beer War A Race To The Bottom?

Josh Noel at the Chicago Tribune  traces the roots of the latest skirmish back to a series of Miller Lite ads that took shots at Bud Light in 2016. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted at that time that it was “the first time in several years that Miller Lite has called out the top selling beer in America, Bud Light, by name in its advertising.”

And as in turns out the Miller Lite slight was not forgotten…

In January Anheuser-Busch, a company that as Noel details “has historically embraced obfuscation as much or more than transparency” transitioned into passionate transparency advocates.

And the company announced that it was now including a complete listing of nutritional information on Bud Light’s package, which in retrospect was a set up for what the company planned to spring on its competition on Super Bowl Sunday.

Now on to the infamous Super Bowl commercial…

On Super Bowl Sunday Bud Light returned to last year’s popular “Dilly, Dilly” medieval kingdom to accuse both Miller Lite and Coors Light of using corn syrup in their beers.

In the Super Bowl spot, the kingdom of Bud Light mistakenly receives a gigantic barrel of corn syrup that wasn’t intended for them. And because Bud Light doesn’t use corn syrup in its beer (just check Bud Light’s newly added nutritional information), the kingdom’s subjects embark on a brutal journey to deliver the barrel to the kingdoms of Miller Lite and Coors Light – because they evidently do.

The spot’s corn syrup accusations, though not denied, drew a quick rebuttal from MillerCoors as well as from the National Corn Growers Association.

MillerCoors then ran a full-page ad in the New York Times championing its use of corn syrup, adding in a not so subtle nod to the National Corn Growers Association, that it was sourced from “America’s heartland.”Bud, Is The Anheuser-Busch/MillerCoors Beer War A Race To The Bottom?

And MillerCoors’ CEO Gavin Hattersley got all fiery about the Bud Light Super Bowl ad on the company’s 2018 fourth-quarter earnings call

“Anheuser-Busch could not have handled it as a better gift if they tried harder. Our distributors are proud. They are fiercely competitive and they like nothing more than a good fight.”

“Nothing we could have done could have fired them up so much,” he said. “Our employees are just as fired up and the next few months are going to be interesting for sure.

Then things got even uglier when MillerCoors pulled out of meetings for a multimillion-dollar, “Got Milk” style advertising campaign…an almost unheard of alliance between Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors , Heineken NV and Constellation Brands designed to revive the slowing beer sector.

MillerCoors’ Communications Chief, Pete Marino, told the Wall Street Journal that the long-planned campaign would be a “waste of time and money…while the dominant industry leader is spending millions of dollars demonizing beer ingredients.”

As AdAge astutely explains it’s a desperate time for both brewers…

“Bud Light remains the nation’s most popular beer with a nearly 15 percent market share, but shipment volume has fallen 27 percent since 2008, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights.”

“Coors Light (7 percent share) and Miller Lite (6 percent) are also in decline, with shipments down 13 percent and 29 percent, respectively, since 2008.”

And desperate times can sometimes lead to desperate actions…

“You’re in a segment that’s undergoing rapid decline,” one ad industry executive who has worked for both brewers explained to AdAge. “And there are no new drinkers to grab share. It’s a race to the bottom.”

And we’ll just have to watch to see who gets there first…

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