With the massive media hype that surrounds the World Cup, it comes as no surprise that international brands would be breaking out their wallets to get in on the frenzy. What is surprising though, is Budweiser’s bid for the title of “Official Beer Sponsor” for the 2010 and 2014 events.
That’s a bit of a head scratcher – well, at least to this writer. Why would an iconic American beer that has a domestic profile among the world’s ale drinkers, be sponsoring an international competition taking place in South Africa for a sport that is – let’s face it – not hugely popular in the U.S.? Budweiser is not a niche beer like the other beers on rating sites like BeerAdvocate.com and RateBeer.com.
Like most people who learned to appreciate the comfort of nursing a cold one at a young (but legal-drinking!) age, Budweiser was my first love. But as most first loves go, I have since moved on. As a self-identified Belgian beer snob, it is easy to forget that Budweiser holds a nearly 50 percent share of U.S. beer sales. Obviously, Budweiser wants to expand their U.S. success to the world marketplace - but will this move really change perception?
Budweiser has sponsored the World Cup before, and with only questionable success. In 2006, German World Cup fans worked themselves into a collective panic – helped along by a healthy dose of rumor – over Budweiser’s sponsorship. This, of course, meant exclusive sales rights at the matches and Germans revolted. Popular sensationalist newspaper Bild declared: “Watery Yankee beer in the 12 stadiums? No way!” What did Anheuser-Busch have to gain by forcing the citizens of the third highest beer-consuming nation to drink its base-level lager brew? Nothing, apparently. Following a challenge by Bitburger over semantics, AB agreed to sell the popular German beer alongside Budweiser at all World Cup events. AB paid a reported $40 million for the sponsorship and sales rights that it now had to share in order to avoid alienating German beer drinkers.
Budweiser’s owners (now AB InBev) – most likely seeking to avoid a repeat performance of the backlash – now appear to be treating their recent acquisition’s advertising rights a little differently. Instead of trying to shoehorn Budweiser into every international market, AB InBev will be using some of their over 200 beer brands to appeal to much more local markets. Argentine matches will sport ads for the Argentine Quilmes, Brazilian matches will feature Brahma, Belgians will recognize Jupiler, and Germans will see ads for the ultra local Hasseröder.
Although Hasseröder’s spokeswoman declined to comment on any connection between the new strategy and the 2006 fiasco, it’s obvious that someone at AB InBev is paying attention.
As Budweiser (and other large American brands) continue their slow progress towards the goal of world domination, they would be wise to keep this anecdote in mind. If not, they could find their brand acceptance losing altitude like Sisyphus’ rock.