Bud Light is the Antidote to 'Overwhelming' Craft Beer Selection, Says Bud Light

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Bud Light, which has struggled amid the craft beer revolution, has a new message for drinkers: Simple beer is good, too. In new ads the nation's largest brew touts its "four essential ingredients" -- water, rice, barley and hops -- while poking fun at more complex brews with depictions of absurd concoctions like a beer garnished with a lobster claw.

The two spots, by Wieden & Kennedy, mark a new marketing phase in which Bud Light will put a concerted effort on promoting its liquid credentials, while promoting itself as "America's favorite light lager."

In doing so, Bud Light follows other traditional beer brands, such as Miller Lite and Heineken, that have sought to restore respect to mainstream lagers with product-focused marketing amid the rise of more complex craft ales.

But so far, big brands have struggled to reverse declining volume trends. For instance, Miller Lite fell 0.8% in the four weeks ending July 29 after dropping 5.4% in June, Beer Marketer's Insights reported, citing Nielsen data.

Bud Light has been stuck in a bigger slump, with its volume down 5.8% in July and 9.4% in June, according to the Beer Marketer's Insights report.

Bud Light's new ads seek to reclaim the brand's mojo by appealing to drinkers who prefer regular old beer. Some consumers are tiring of "having to pull out your phone and Google certain brands that are on tap to find out what is this brand all about. It's become a bit overwhelming," says Andy Goeler, a longtime Anheuser-Busch InBev employee who took over VP duties for Bud Light in March.

"There is definitely an audience that likes that, and that's great," says Goeler, who formerly oversaw AB InBev's Goose Island craft beer brand. But there are other consumers that just "want a good-quality beer."

Indeed, even amid the craft beer boom, traditional lagers still command the majority of market share. Bud Light finished last year with 16.2% share, followed by Coors Light (7.0%), Budweiser (6.6%) and Miller Lite (6.2%), according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

Still, small brands have stolen the buzz across the packaged food and drink industry. But with its new "America's favorite light lager" message, Bud Light is leaning into its size. "Big does not equal bad. There is a reason that this brand sells as much as it does," Goeler says.

Bud Light's new ads are reminiscent of a recent Heineken spot starring actor Benicio del Toro that touts just "three natural ingredients": water, barley and hops. (Heineken's volume was up by a "low-single digit" percentage in the year's first half, Beer Business Daily recently reported.)

Budweiser and Bud Light's use of rice is somewhat unique. Budweiser on its website touts the use of verdant rice to "create a light and crisp taste" -- a point that has been debated over the years by beer enthusiasts.

Miller Lite's product-and-heritage-focused push has been underway for a while, including some spots that take on Bud Light by name by touting Miller Lite as having "more taste and half the carbs." AB InBev has responded with ads that use its economy Natural Light brand to go after Miller Lite. But Bud Light has stayed on the sidelines of the battle.

"As the leader in the industry it makes no sense for me to try to defend my leadership position," says Goeler. "It's the consumers that are defending it, and they've spoken."

The product messaging will become a permanent part of Bud Light's ad mix, he says. But the brew is not walking away from storylines and punchlines. A new round of humorous ads under Bud Light's "Famous Among Friends" campaign will roll out soon, according to Goeler.

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