BUD ADS GO FLAT, & D'ARCY TAKES BLAME

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About a year ago, Rance Crain explored Anheuser-Busch's problems with Budweiser. Last week A-B got rid of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. This is reprinted from Nov. 22, 1993.

If you want to confirm the importance of good advertising-or more to the point, bad advertising-you need look no further than the king of beers.

It's scary how fast a company can lose its direction-and how fast such a loss can affect sales. It wasn't long ago that Budweiser was the acknowledged king of beers, and its advertising showed an almost autocratic self-confidence. Can you think of a more preemptive and high-handed statement than "When you've said Budweiser, you've said it all?" Such arrogance established Budweiser as the one beer against which all the others were measured.

But abruptly, with the advent of new management (August A. Busch IV, the owner's son, took over as Budweiser brands VP), the Budweiser ads became downright cautious, almost apologetic. Last spring Anheuser-Busch started kissing up to beer drinkers by declaring its flagship brand was "proud to be your Bud."

Here's what Mr. Busch said in announcing the new campaign: "In today's economic environment, consumers are returning to things of value and in beer, that's Budweiser. `Proud to be your Bud' tells our consumers that we're proud to be their beer, and we thank them for their business." Translation: We've lost a lot of sales to lower-priced beers, and now we need to act very grateful to try to get back the business.

But why should I, as a beer drinker, give a tinker's damn that Budweiser is proud to be my beer, anymore than I would care that Chevrolet is proud to be my automobile or Colgate is proud to be my toothpaste?

That's looking at the buyer-seller relationship from the seller's point of view. But what I want to know is why I should pay a premium price to buy Budweiser? The fact that Budweiser is proud to serve me begs the question.

I get the feeling Anheuser-Busch realizes it has a problem here. Budweiser supermarket sales were off 4.7% in the last year-more than any other major brand. And the company just unveiled yet another ad campaign for Budweiser, this one equally off the mark. The new commercials show a bunch of Generation X-type people sitting around or shooting pool and talking about classic cars, television programs, rock music, etc. They're also drinking Budweiser, and you're supposed to get the connection that one classic deserves another.

Mr. Busch IV was a bit of a daredevil in his younger days, but the new marketing philosophy at Anheuser-Busch seems uncharacteristically meek and mild. It's not like the St. Louis beer company to come to us with hat in hand, politely suggesting it respects us and would be appreciative if it could solicit our business.

This is not advertising. This is asking for a handout, and even the kinder, gentler '90s won't accommodate such an oblique appeal.

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