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The Strategy Behind Budweiser’s Super Bowl Ad – Born The Hard Way

3 Feb

bud-2     During America’s most important game, Budweiser may have produced America’s most important and timely message—by accident.

     For the first time in memory, Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad keeps its Clydesdales in the stable and the puppies on a short leash.   This ad reminds viewers of the core values of Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant who risked all to travel an ocean and half the North American continent with nothing more than an idea in his head and drawings in his Journal.   The ad is not selling beer as much as it’s selling an idea.   That idea is that dreams are hard.   And when those dreams are fulfilled it can produce success.

     Called “Born the Hard Way” the ad comes at a timely crossroads when the national discussion about immigration and who has the right to become an American is debated from TV screens to coffee shops.   Not only is the theme familiar, so is the language.   As Adolphus Busch gets his papers stamped in New York you can hear the voices in the crowd shout, “Go back home.  You’re not wanted here.”

    Anheuser-Busch executives say the ad is meant to celebrate the American dream.  In its press release rolling out the ad, Mike Byrne, the chief creative officer of ad agency Anomaly Global said the inspiration came from Budweiser itself.  “When Budweiser told us they wanted to celebrate those who embody the American spirit, we realized the ultimate story lived within their own brand history,” said Byrne.  “Adolphus Busch is the hero of the Anheuser-Busch American dream story, which makes him the perfect protagonist.” attitude-toward-the-ad-001

     The ad’s story has little to do with selling beer and everything to do with building brand equity.  This is not a transactional advertisement trying to convince the viewer that Budweiser is a superior product that offers a unique selling proposition to solve a problem or improve one’s life.   The strategy is to build a positive emotional connection to the brand.   It’s what consumer psychologists and advertising scholar John Eighmey call “attitude toward the ad.”  If the viewer enjoys and likes the advertisement, it is likely to have a positive effect on his or her attitude about the beliefs and expectations of the brand or its product. (Figure 1)   In this case, if you like the ad, you’ll like Budweiser–and just maybe buy a six-pack the next time you’re at the store.  It’s virtually the same psychological formula used in every Super Bowl ad—a popularity contest.

     Many will argue that Anheuser-Busch is trying to make a political statement.  If it was, it’s perhaps by complete accident.  But it’s no accident that people viewing this ad through the lens of their own values and political beliefs have caused the viral explosion of more than 6 million YouTube views even before the big game’s kick off.  Consumer psychologist Richard Bagozzi has established that mood directly influences one’s cognitive processing and attitudes towards advertisements.  If one holds a negative mood toward immigration, they are more than likely to view Budweiser’s ad with a negative feeling.  

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Picture 1

     The time it takes to produce such an ad means that its director Chris Sargent had to start production months before President Trump’s executive orders to temporarily reset the nation’s immigration policies.  Even then, executives at Anheuser-Busch would be reluctant to risk a brand as big as Budweiser by taking a political stand in a highly polarized consumer marketplace.  It would also be naive to believe Budweiser didn’t think it would cause controversy.  This is where it takes a strong brand, and brave marketing executives willing to stimulate discussion.

     Indeed, in the hours leading up to the Super Bowl, Budweiser doubled down on its social media sites inviting followers to learn more about he heritage of the brand by viewing the advertisement.  (Picture 1)

    In some ways the new ad makes sense for Budweiser.  Having temporarily rebranded the beer as “America” last summer, the new ad attaches a powerful story to the name.  But without the horses and dogs Super Bowl viewers have come to expect, Budweiser might be advancing its new message the hard way. 

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