At a wholesaler meeting in San Diego last week, A-B wrapped itself tightly in the American flag and continued to confront, rather than ignore, its smaller competitor. A-B executives repeatedly attacked London-based SABMiller as a foreign company whose marketing tactics undermined the beer industry. In an emotional speech, U.S. brewery President August Busch IV exhorted the crowd to ask Miller's wholesalers how they can sleep knowing that they're "destroying the American beer industry."
Miller has taken advertising potshots at Anheuser's brews, infuriating the St. Louis marketer and its wholesalers-at least partly because the barrage has worked. Miller Lite shipments shot up 10.5% to 17.4 million barrels in 2004, its highest volume in more than a decade, according to figures from Beer Marketer's Insights. Bud Light grew by 3.7%, but its gain was wiped out by a 5% drop in Bud sales.
As the fiery rhetoric suggests, Anheuser-Busch will fight back by painting itself a patriot. At the meeting, the company showed an ad featuring its workers talking about how they're proud to serve an American company. The concluding lines: "This is America's beer. This is Anheuser-Busch." The brewer has run print ads that hail Anheuser-Busch as "The American Beer Company."
A Miller spokesman's riposte: "We can understand why they'd like to talk about anything but the beer."
Bob Lachky, VP-brand management and director of global brand creative for A-B, said the ad, from independent Waylon Advertising, St. Louis, provides "the umbrella message for all Budweiser brands." The ads are about "genuine" Americans, Mr. Lachky said, and carry the tagline is "This is Budweiser. This is beer."
The American tag will appear in various marketing programs, but there are no plans to outwardly bash Miller's ownership. Miller sued Anheuser-Busch last year after it ran ads saying Miller was owned by "South Africans." (SABMiller was created when South Africa Breweries acquired Miller from Philip Morris Cos.)
Burt Flickinger, managing director at Strategic Resource Group, said the approach makes sense. "Patriotism inspires purchase behavior," he said. "That's something they want to capitalize on." But Jack Trout, president of consultancy Trout & Partners, questioned the strategy, noting, "A lot of imported beer is sold in the country."
A sense of Americana infuses new Bud work from Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, even though the flag isn't explicitly waved. In one spot, an umpire waits for a beer vendor to crack the first can of Bud before declaring "Play ball!" on opening day.
Internet hot property Jib Jab, famed for its political "This land is your land" parody, is creating some work for the brewer and cinema star George Clooney furnishes the commercials' voice-over. In one spot, the bottle overshadows Mr. Clooney as he recites the creed on the Bud label.
The brewer also previewed for wholesalers work for Budweiser Select from DDB running with the tag "Be Selective."
One ad has a couple walking through a crowded beach until they find the perfect spot. In another, a guy with Bud Select in hand lets two elevators go up before stepping into one occupied by an attractive woman.
While Miller was the target of tough talk, Anheuser-Busch executives also made clear they were taking aim at spirits. A tasting room featured a variety of beer-based cocktails, such as one flavored with ginger, in an effort to sell wholesalers on the concept of beer cocktails. Apropos of both SABMiller and spirits, Mr. Lachky said, the brewer and its wholesalers have to work together to "attack the enemy."