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.