Political experts generally agree that one of the key elements to winning the general election in November for any candidate is to excite “the base,” in order to maximize turnout. Candidates that reinforce voters’ beliefs and vision for the future of America drive a personal connection – and in turn increase the likelihood that someone will actually go out and vote.
Borrowing a page from the DC playbook, AB InBev has spent much of 2016 positioning their two highest-selling beers, Bud Light and Budweiser, for a November showdown by dialing up issues and imagery that, while do not explicitly show support for a given party, tend to be ones that traditionally lean left or right.
Since its launch at February’s Super Bowl, the Bud Light Party campaign uses celebrities Amy Schumer, Seth Rogen, and Michael Pena to, with humor, address social issues like equal pay and marriage equality.
Budweiser has rebranded itself as America, incorporating imagery of farmers and hard-working Americans to exude patriotism. While aired during the Rio Olympics, a uniquely non-partisan event, the campaign is expected to run through November, the timing of which is not so coincidental.
The fact that bottles and cans of Bud Light are blue while America, er Budweiser, is red, only play further into the narrative.
Obviously the goal for Belgian-owned AB InBev is not to advance a political agenda, rather it is to sell beer. So the key question is, are theI’ll ads performing any differently across political affiliation, and if so, is AB InBev getting bang for their buck? And can these results help us predict who might come out on top in November?
Phoenix Marketing International, a leading market research firm, tested both campaigns in their ongoing Beer Category AdPi ® Advertising Tracking study. In addition to evaluating the ads, respondents were asked to self-report their political affiliation. Since launch, the campaigns were evaluated by over 500 Democrats and 350 Republicans.
Did the “blue”, Bud Light message resonate with Democrats? Did the “red”, Budweiser message resonate with Republicans?
After seeing Bud Light’s Rogen and Schumer ads, Democrats were 33% more likely than Republicans to purchase Bud Light, also finding the ads to show a relevant, relatable, and aspirational brand that “shares my interests.” This relevance, along with significant media support, drew the attention of Democrats as the campaign was recalled nearly two-thirds more frequently than the average beer ad in the same time period. One viewer noted, “It identifies with the philosophy that emphasizes the common man over so-called intellectuals and elites, and Bud Light is the drink of choice for the everyman.”
Many Republicans, however, were turned off by the campaign, and in turn, Bud Light. Comments like the following were common, “The wage gap is a myth and it’s upsetting to see Bud Light jump on the feminism bandwagon,” or “I’d like to believe Bud Light supports equal pay for women, but I feel like they’re really just saying anything to get more women to drink their beer.”
In a similar way, Budweiser America resonated much stronger among those who identify as Republican. GOP-leaning beer drinkers were 24% more likely purchase Budweiser than Democrats, with the brand positioned as “great for me,” aspirational, and trustworthy. Recall among Republicans was 21% higher than among Democrats, a nod to its ability to draw in its target, perhaps with a media plan geared toward right-leaning programs. Those who liked the campaign said so because it showed, “An American beer for the American people” and “It made me feel proud to be an American.”
But as Bud Light polarized, so too does Budweiser America, as many Democrats found the ads to be generic, transparent or disingenuous. One noted, “Changing the name of the beer to ‘America’ is comical and seems to pander to dumb people who are easily influenced.” The company’s Belgian ownership was also not lost on some as, “I do not like that they changed the name of the beer to America after becoming a foreign company.”
Given all this, it would seem that AB InBev’s strategy of “divide and conquer” has been an effective one at reaching the “base.” By using politically charged imagery, Democrats are more likely to choose Bud Light to almost the same degree that Republicans are to choose Budweiser. Though as long as a consumer is willing to choose one brand or the other, it is a win for the broader AB InBev brand.
That is not to say the strategy is without risk. Unlike the upcoming election, beer drinkers have almost limitless choices. In the short term, the plan to piggyback on the election may increase sales, but the long-term impact of polarizing potential customers remains to be seen, as some may dismiss Bud Light or Budweiser in the future based on these ads.
In terms of predicting election results, even the most complex polling models struggle to project this very unique campaign year. Given the relative equal resonance of each brand’s campaign with its respective “base,” this one is probably too close to call.
Of course this is irrelevant to AB InBev – they just hope these campaigns keep drinkers engaged and thirsty through November.
Josh Berger, VP, Phoenix Marketing International