How Budweiser Is Trying to Lose Its Stale Image and Appeal to Young Drinkers

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The “King” isn’t dead. But considering that Budweiser has seen sales drop for more than two decades in a row, and that last year’s sales decrease of “just” 4.4% was considered a success, it’s hard to claim that the self-proclaimed “King of Beers” is still king among consumers. Young people are especially apt to view Budweiser not in terms of royalty, but as a generic brew drunk by people who “don’t really care about beer,” in the words of one typical millennial.

Reporting from the beer heartland, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains that times have been tough for Budweiser:

Sales have been slumping for 25 years straight. At the peak of its popularity, in 1988, more than one in every four beers sold in this country bore the iconic red-and-white label. Last year, it was one in 12. For the first time ever, it’s being outsold by Coors Light. The King is now more like a jack.

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Sticking with the poker theme, among millennials, Budweiser is more likely considered something like a 4 of clubs. It’s rarely anyone’s first choice coming out of the deck, or from behind the bar, as it were. Bud’s two core marketing efforts, one focused on America’s pastime of baseball, the other on Clydesdales and nostalgia, are both old-fashioned by design and mean little to young people today.

To many consumers of all ages, the idea of using Americana to sell Budweiser is laughable. It’s been years since Bud was made by an American company. Beers have even been created as proudly All-American alternatives to Bud. Nonetheless, Budweiser is sponsoring a Made in America Festival taking place in Philadelphia over Labor Day Weekend, featuring Jay-Z—who himself has been featured prominently in Budweiser TV ads—as well as Pearl Jam, Chris Cornell, Jill Scott, Run DMC, and more.

It’s obvious why Budweiser is attaching its brand name to something that’s “American” and that’ll draw a hip, young crowd. But will such a crowd be remotely interested in Budweiser. Think of the prototypical fans of the two headliners, Jay-Z and Pearl Jam. They’re folks who you think would reach for craft beer, PBR, champagne, any number of wines or vodka-infused drinks, and perhaps wood alcohol before they’d resort to Budweiser.

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As their core customers grow older, however, Bud and other staple “old man beers” like Miller Lite must do what they can to try to attract a younger clientele. AdAge wrote about how a series of humorous ads was trying to “redefine Miller Time for millennial drinkers.” Miller’s old “Tastes Great, Less Filling” no longer really works because thanks to the rise of craft beers, it’s hard for Miller Lite to brag about its taste. And due to the advent to ultra low-calorie beers, it can’t really focus on the less filling aspect either. As a result, AdAge notes that Miller Lite’s advertising campaigns are “more about sociability and less about the beer itself.”

Meanwhile, Heineken, yet another classic beer that hasn’t really been embraced by young consumers, is experimenting with a hip new look. Or at least it’s a look they hope will be deemed hip. According to the Los Angeles Times, French industrial designer Petit Romain has created the “Heineken Cube,” a beer box concept that’s supposed to make it easier to ship (beers can be stacked), but also looks awkward to open and drink from.

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Who knows, though. It might catch on. Miller Lite and “Entourage” star Adrian Grenier have managed to convince some beer drinkers that punching a hole on the top of a beer can is somehow necessary, or at least cool.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

25 comments
Dandapani
Dandapani

If they made actual beer, perhaps they would attract actual customers. 

warnergt
warnergt

Ever since Budweiser caved to extortion by Jesse Jackson, Jr. and gave him a Budweiser distributorship, my principles will not let me drink Budweiser.

You have to stand up to these Democrat thugs.

CO2isGood
CO2isGood

Maybe they should work on its stale watery taste first.

Gaius Pompus Magnus
Gaius Pompus Magnus

The taste of Bud is just awful awful awful and there is nothing they can do about that.   I don't mean awful like eating shit but I mean awful like drinking piss--hell you know what I mean.

el_polacko
el_polacko

maybe bud ads should capitalize on the beer-snobbery expressed in this article, in comments here and elsewhere.  some guys like to just slap back a few brews rather than engage in the beer version of a wine-tasting. 

Fred2202350
Fred2202350

You have to read what its being compared to - many of them 'light' beers (i.e. beer for people who don't really like the taste of beer). Bud has a good "hoppy" taste that holds up well if drinking several with friends - much more engaging in a bitter way than Miller High Life. But if drinking one, or no more than two, craft beer will usually have a distinct blend of flavors that make it stand out, even if it habituates quickly (try drinking a Bud after two of your favorite brewpub specials - it'll curl your tongue). I haven't bought any in years, but used to take cases of it to the infield back in my NASCAR days. I'd suggest to them they just try to keep Bud the icon that it is, not worrying about sales numbers as long as they stay good, and instead fool around with new iterations of Bud Lite, with new names, ad campaigns, etc. Its worked for Sam Adams.

rick baca
rick baca

Budweiser needs shed its trash image.  Most of the broken beer bottles and discarded cans I see on the road are Buds.  The King of Beers needs to educate its clientele that covering America's road sides in trash is bad

Willie_Boombotts
Willie_Boombotts

Bud is only a hit now in the NASCAR circuit.  Trashballs like Ryan Sester are waging a losing battle by touting Bud "Heavy" as a premium beer...it's more like whale p!ss if you ask me.

MJP

AmosDWright
AmosDWright

I've never had that. How do you get the whale to hold still?

Metal2Metal
Metal2Metal

I view Bud and Miller to be the cheap brands. I had a Bud light in a can recently and it tasted more like alka seltzer than beer. I usually drink Bell and Leinenkugel sometimes Sam Adams, and always tap or a bottle, never canned beer - yuk.

Jim Reilley
Jim Reilley

They just need to change EVERYTHING about it and they'll be fine. New can, new logo, and most importantly = NEW BEER. It's a truly nasty tasting beer by todays standards.

HR Pufnstuf
HR Pufnstuf

Can you imagine that? A beer company, trying to sell beer, to beer drinkers of all people! What will they think of next? 

IdaAli1
IdaAli1

People are still drinking it because it's cheap and available. Take a walk through rural America, and try to find a convenience store that sells craft beer. 

Jim Reilley
Jim Reilley

In rural N. California we have lots. 

IdaAli1
IdaAli1

Try rural Tennessee, or Oklahoma or South Carolina

LoudRambler
LoudRambler

 No, but in rural Iowa we have a lot.

 Y'know, German heritage includes drinking beer which is actually beer, and the whole "rural" mentality includes an arms race at who brews a better beer...

Tom Zentra
Tom Zentra

Of course they want to appeal to younger drinkers. Who thinks older drinkers will continue downing 6-packs when they are obese and suffering from diabetes? Have a Bud and a casket?!

john65001
john65001

Pearl Jam?  Hip and young?  What year do they think it is, 1992?

Boulder Republcn
Boulder Republcn

Good.  It always amazed me, even back in 1988, why Bud was so popular.  

Now that I have experienced real beer, from craft breweries across the country, I don't think Bud should even be labeled a beer.It's more like bilge water...Why, oh why, is this stuff still so popular??

Doug Aamoth
Doug Aamoth

Couldn't agree more with Tim Knecht and BullFrog_Jr. It's a truly bold, unthinkable and radical idea, but making Budweiser *taste good* might actually work better than pseudo-patriotic marketing stunts. 

BullFrog_Jr
BullFrog_Jr

If Budweiser and other companies want to appeal to younger drinkers they need to start offering a more diverse selection.  I personally always go for a good stout or porter first, and find Budweiser's lager (or whatever it is they are trying to make) to be bland and tasteless.  As consumers are exposed to more varieties of beer from different breweries their palates are becoming more sophisticated.  Instead of throwing money at marketing maybe they should look at the real problem - lack of a quality product.

Tim Knecht
Tim Knecht

Back in the 80s,  Annheuser Busch illegally "tied up" areas of the country by threatening to withhold their best-selling, popular products from bars and restaurants if those bars and restaurants sold competing products. (Coca Cola did the same thing.) This was pervasive in the high-tourism area of the Chesapeake Bay; if you wanted a beer in most of the restaurants and bars in the area, you had to buy Bud or a sister product (even if you regarded them as "p*sswater".) Fortunately, their hold slipped, and we can now buy high-quality beers and ales when visiting The Bay. Bud is over-priced dreck, and the new attempts to "modernize" the A-B product lines are simply more overpriced dreck. Give me a good craft brew, anytime.