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May 23, 2013

Budweiser Really Is King (Miller Fans Can Now Go Home)

Budweiser Really Is King (Miller Fans Can Now Go Home)

We realize that we’re probably supposed to be excited to the point of spontaneous human combustion by the new bowtie-shaped Budweiser can. It’s a marketing coup and innovative packaging design; it’s been engineered to death; it’s unlike any beer can that has ever existed. It also holds one less ounce of beer than the traditional can. We hate it and here is why.

Oh, it’s not permanent, by any means – the standard 12 oz can will still be available, of course. The new bowtie-shaped can is a prestige model that is only offered in the United States for the purpose of creating “buzz” and making collectors salivate at the thought of possibly reaping major posthumous windfall when their descendants sell it on Ebay in 2050 for a whopping million dollars (which by 2050, will be the equivalent of, roughly, $14.79).

The Anheuser-Busch party line is hip and trendy; it’s exactly what cool customers are looking for in a fine American brew. Our cries for a beer can that doesn’t bore us to sobriety has finally been heeded! Hurrah! What isn’t widely mentioned, however, is that the new can actually contains more aluminum than its traditionally shaped counterpart – roughly double the amount. More packaging, less product. Is this in keeping with the new (relatively new, anyway)trend for environmentally responsible packaging? Who cares! Crack open a cold one!

The Incredible Shrinking Product

Keeping product packaging design roughly the same size while diminishing the amount of product itself is an act of corporate subterfuge that has been going on since humans developed the ability to put objects in vessels. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if a company could simply admit what they were doing to the public? “Hey, our business model of offering abundant quantities of product at a low price was simply untenable. Because we don’t want our CEO’s personal jet fuel budget to suffer, we’re going to be raising our prices! Thanking you in advance, your friends from Anheuser-Busch. Xoxo.”

Of course not – no company would ever be so honest. Instead, memos are issued proclaiming the righteousness of the brand with regard to making its packaging more in keeping with what the customer wants… and the customer clearly wants an angled can and slightly less beer. Deal with it.

Mixed Signals

Anheuser-Busch is no stranger to marketing strategies and solutions; it’s had the bejeezus frightened out of it by the surge of the craft beer industry, and responded by marketing craft-like beers with homespun labels and the Anheuser-Busch imprint nowhere in sight. Now, any company obviously has the right to market its products in any way it sees fit; after all, there weren’t any official lies on the label – just the sin of omission, right? You try telling that to a hippie with a penchant for supporting tiny craft breweries and a blog.

Occasionally, a corporation’s mammoth size can become its own worst enemy. A big and bloated company somehow seems cold and untrustworthy, and the more the company tries to appeal to the better angels of a public’s nature, the more calculating the company seems. Case in point: what is the better marketing strategy for the current cultural sentiment? Less packaging, or more packaging, but in a slightly cooler shape? Aggressively artisan beers made with bog myrtle or some other massively heritage plant that’s been harvested sustainably by a group of mandolin-playing hipsters with knee-length beards, or beers surreptitiously adorned with folksy labels even though they were made in breweries that produce hundreds of millions of barrels every year?

From a branding point of view in this day and age, the heirloom marketing angle clearly has the edge. “Green” product packaging, supporting the little guy’s big dream and environmental responsibility may be cynical marketing tools, but they work, and they work because the public is legitimately concerned about the planet’s resources and habitability. Of course, that concern might be more deeply rooted in creating the appearance of concern for fashion’s sake, but if stylishness actually propels people into doing accountable things, we can only say: fair enough.

So what have we learned today? We’ve learned that the “King of Beers” is enclosed within a beer can that is shaped like it’s wearing a corset. We’ve learned that we’re supposed to think that this is cool. We’ve learned that Anheuser-Busch is, on one hand, distributing a product using twice as much packaging as what is actually needed, and on the other hand covertly marketing a product designed to appeal to the exact segment of the population that is the most likely to find the revolutionary new beer can design dubious. Most importantly, we’ve learned that we’re getting far too worked up over corporate machinations; we need a frosty, delicious beer. Ahhhhh.

author

by Kevin Smith
Managing partner at SmashBrand. We're a group of experienced brand owners, thinkers and world-class designers united by an obsession for creating category disrupting brand experiences.

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