Budweiser Tries to Get All Sophisticated By Putting on a New ‘Black Crown’

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Next up in Budweiser’s efforts to lose its stale image is the Anheuser-Busch launch of two slick new upscale brews—which are supposed to appeal to drinkers who usually opt for flavorful craft beers or hip liquor brands.

The King of Beers seems to be scared it could be losing its crown. Sales by volume of Budweiser dipped 6% to 7% last year, continuing a slump that’s nearly three decades old. For that matter, sales of mass-market beers have been decreasing in general, while consumers regularly have been increasing their intake of craft beers, as well as wine and spirits.

The overarching trend has it that the mainstream same-old, same-old brews have lost their fizz. Drinkers no longer feel compelled to habitually pick up a case of the same beer their dads and granddads habitually sipped. Not in an age when there are so many adult beverages out there that pack in more flavor, more edge—and, often, more of a punch via higher alcohol content.

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Accordingly, for quite some time now, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the huge international company that owns Budweiser, Beck’s, Corona, Stella Artois, and other major brands, has been mixing things up with new brews meant to appeal to drinkers tired of the same old seemingly watered-down brews. They’ve done so with beers with unusual flavors and higher alcohol (Bud Light Lime, Bud Light Platinum), and they’ve done so with their own lines of craft beer—or rather “crafty” beer since many of the small, indie brewers don’t want to be grouped together with any brew owned by a major international company like InBev or MillerCoors.

Bud Light Platinum was introduced around the time of last year’s Super Bowl as a smoother, more upscale version of regular old Bud Light. Platinum is a comparatively high 6% alcohol beer, and comes in a sleek cobalt-blue bottle. Despite costing roughly 35% more than traditional Bud Light, Platinum has been selling well—hence the arrival of two more Anheuser-Busch InBev beers with higher alcohol content and a higher sense of attitude.

The beer giant is also basically repeating the timing of last year, choosing the Super Bowl as a launch point for two more twists on classic brands, with Budweiser Black Crown and Beck’s Sapphire. The new Budweiser brew has more alcohol and hoppier taste than traditional Bud. “Black Crown’s bringing Bud to a more sophisticated crowd and occasion,” Miguel Patricio, Anheuser-Busch InBev chief marketing officer, explained to Businessweek. It is “positioned as a more upscale version of Bud geared toward nighttime drinking occasions,” to use the awkward marketing lingo of Advertising Age.

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Both Black Crown and Sapphire are 6% alcohol by volume, and both are being marketed as hipper, younger, more flavorful versions of their old-fashioned counterparts. Just so that consumers have no doubt there’s something slick and upscale about Beck’s Sapphire, the beer comes in a swanky new bottle that’s meant to hammer the image home, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Beck’s Sapphire’s sleek black bottle took two years to develop and must go through the furnace twice when it’s being formed to give it its black color. The distinctive look is meant to help the beer stand out in upscale nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

Similarly, Bud Light Platinum stands out from the pack in its distinctive blue bottle. And what about the taste of Sapphire and Black Crown? That’ll matter, of course, but perhaps not as much as the success of Anheuser-Busch efforts to convince drinkers they’re demonstrating good taste by choosing to order their new beverages when out on the town.

“It goes along with a long-standing trend of American consumers drinking more craft-type beers and higher-end beers,” Morningstar analyst Thomas Mullarkey said to the Post-Dispatch, discussing AB InBev’s new brews. “They’re catering toward the demographic that wants to try what they perceive to be higher-quality beers.”

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Drinkers will soon get to see if they’re higher quality beers—and if they justify the higher prices.