If Budweiser's move to rebrand itself as "America" this summer was meant to grab attention, then the labeling gambit was a home run. The change drew a flood of media attention, as everyone from Donald Trump to Conan O'Brien offered opinions.
Anheuser-Busch InBev tracked more than 1 billion earned impressions in the 48 hours following the announcement on May 9, including news stories and social media, according to a spokeswoman.
The design change, which Ad Age reported first on May 6, involves replacing "Budweiser" with "America" on the front of cans and bottles. The packaging will run from May 23 through the November election and will be accompanied by a summer campaign called "America Is in Your Hands." Its aim is to remind people to "embrace the optimism upon which the country was first built," according to the brand. The agency that handled the design is Jones Knowles Ritchie, New York. Anomaly is Bud's lead creative agency.
Some critics seized on the fact that Bud owner Anheuser-Busch InBev is based in Belgium, not the U.S. Michigan craft brewer Saugatuck Brewing Co. mocked Bud on Facebook, posting a picture of a beer called 'Murica and adding that "unlike other 'America' beers, our brewery is completely American owned." It also went after Bud on Twitter.
Budweiser can take shelter in the fact that the brew has long been part of the American fabric, from its iconic Clydesdales to its long-running sponsorship of Major League Baseball. "Budweiser is proudly domestic, made in America since 1876," Ricardo Marques, U.S. VP for Bud, said in an email statement. "One hundred percent of the beer enjoyed by U.S. consumers is passionately brewed in our 12 local breweries spread across the country."
On social media, Bud began posting videos teasing the broader campaign, which appears poised to tout themes including diversity and Olympic pride, while nodding to the upcoming election season.
Kit Yarrow, author of "Decoding the New Consumer Mind" and consumer psychologist, called the label change "brilliant," noting that only a few brands are iconic enough to get away with such a bold move. "Their strong and central place in American culture is subconsciously communicated and reinforced by this action," she said in an email. "In other words, we know (even if we're not thinking about it) that this is a statement of power and confidence."
Others had fun with it, like Mr. O'Brien, who joked on his TBS talk show that "starting in June, you're not an alcoholic, you're a patriot." On Comedy Central, Larry Wilmore quipped that with the new label, Bud will have to change the shape of its can, as he showed a beer gut protruding from the container. On Fox News' "Fox & Friends," Mr. Trump tried to take credit for the change, jokingly (we think). "They're so impressed with what our country will become that they decided to do this before the fact," he said.