The Strange Death Of The American Beer Ad

Compared to some markets, American beer advertisers have it easy. While beer ads in the UK are subject to a host of regulations – no implying that alcohol makes you sexually attractive, for instance – US brands have a lot more freedom. And there’s no shortage of beer commercials on TV – over 200 new-to-air beer ads have appeared in our Ad Ratings database this year.

But only 1 of those 200 ads manages to score higher than 3-Stars in our Ad Ratings database. That’s the kind of record you might expect for banking or financial service brands. But beer is a fun, dynamic category with mass appeal. So why aren’t there more great beer ads?

A look at the category’s sole 5-Star ad supplies some clues. It’s a commercial from this May for Budweiser’s Freedom Reserve Red Lager, part of its limited-edition Reserve line. True to the brand’s name, there’s a military tie-in. Some of the money goes towards Folds of Honor, a charity Budweiser have a long-standing relationship with which supports veterans, and the beer itself is brewed by veterans.

The 5-Star ad makes the most of the connection, staging a powerful meeting between the veterans brewing the beer and those Folds of Honor helps.

(This video is the full-length version of the 60s 5-Star TV ad).

But watch an ad for Freedom Reserve without the veterans’ encounter and it’s clear the charity is doing most of the emotional work – not the beer. This is a 2-Star ad, with low growth potential, and it’s way more typical of the way beers are sold on US TV nowadays.

Of course there’s nothing at all wrong with a brand using its corporate social responsibility and charity work to boost emotional response. But not every ad can be like that. Ultimately an idea needs to stand by itself. And as John Kearon wrote for The Drum this week, US drinks ads seem lacking in great emotional ideas right now.

The Freedom Reserve ad gives us a second clue why that might be affecting the beer market. The beer is a limited edition designed to appeal to craft beer drinkers, which is partly why its short ad is heavy on provenance and product. The rise of craft beer has given US beer advertisers something of an identity crisis. Craft beers individually aren’t major challengers, but the craft sector as a whole is seen as stronger, sexier, and aggressively disruptive, selling connoisseurship, flavour and lifestyle rather than brands.

Big brands have responded either by hitting familiar, but fairly effective notes – like Corona’s Summer series of ads – or by tearing into one another, as in this ad for Miller Lite.

Or they’ve retreated deep into tradition, to secure the affection of the blue-collar male drinkers who are (in theory) Craft resisters.

Both of these are 1-Star ads, with no predicted growth potential.

With few Craft beer brands advertising themselves, and their bigger rivals in defensive territory, it’s a bad time for beer ads. But with adversity comes opportunity – in a weak category, a beer that can hit 4- or 5-Stars regularly should do very well.

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